CARY — Apex’s Mia Castagnero struck fear in the Charlotte Catholic’s defense throughout the NCHSAA girls’ lacrosse state championship game.
So imagine how Catholic’s defenders trembled as Castagnero raced down the field with the ball in an attempt to tie the contest in the final minute.
“I was scared,” said Catholic’s Emma Jette, a midfielder who scored three goals. “She’s a phenomenal player, but I had confidence in our defense.”
Catholic held off Castagnero’s final attempts for a 10-9 victory Saturday at WakeMed Stadium.
“I was just trying to get down field,” Castegerno said of the 100-yard sprint. “I realized I was exhausted and looked for a teammate, but we weren’t able to score.”
Castagnero finished with four goals and two assists to win the MVP award despite the loss.
“There are so many girls who could have been MVP of this game,” Castagnero said. “It’s amazing to be chosen.”
The second-place finish capped off a return to state prominence for Apex, which played in its first state final since winning the title in 2011. In the regular season, Apex wrested the conference title from 2012 state champion Green Hope en route to more success in the state tournament.
“We had a great season,” said Castagnero, a junior who has already committed to Richmond. “People didn’t expect us to go this far. So to come out on and have a chance to play on this field, I’m so proud of this team.”
Apex led 6-5 at halftime and opened an 8-6 lead midway through the second half when Abby Flynn scored with an assist from Castagnero and Castagnero followed with an unassisted goal.
But Catholic responded with three goals in a two-and-a-half minute stretch for a 9-8 lead with 6:45 to play. Jette added a soon-needed insurance goal with 3:50 to play.
Castagnero trimmed the deficit to 10-9 with 3:29 remaining. But in the final minutes, she hit the post with a shot with 2:40 left and had another shot with one minute remaining when goalie Michele Holmes recorded her fourth save – all in the second half. Annie Brannon played the first half as the pair combined for nine saves.
“It’s disappointing, but it was great game for both sides,” Apex coach Mike Bagnasco said. “We didn’t finish in the second half. To only score three goals in the second half against a team like Catholic isn’t enough.”
Flynn and Meredith Chapman added two goals each and freshman Gracie Fulkerson scored once for Apex.
Bagnasco and Castagnero credited Catholic’s defense.
“They had checks,” Castagnero said. “We weren’t ready for that. The checks and the ground balls were the difference in the game.”