APEX — Apex coach John Hayden stood with arms folded, the runner-up trophy in his grasp. The players behind him – who had spent the season showing great depth through 19 wins – couldn’t hide their disappointment.
Apexlost 11-8 to Charlotte Catholic in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A championship game Friday night at WakeMed Soccer Park.
But Hayden saw the title loss differently than his team, which despite bringing back several role players from last year’s state champs, never felt like odds-on favorites to reach this point again.
“In other people’s mind, we weren’t supposed to be here. We had a great year. We lost two games by one goal and played (Catholic) toe-to-toe. It’s hard to be disappointed,” Hayden said.
Apex (19-3), who was making its third appearance in the NCHSAA title in five seasons, had the statistical advantage.
It won the faceoffs 10-2 and the groundballs 33-24. But Charlotte Catholic (22-3) countered the statistical disadvantage by forcing turnovers and getting out into transition.
Catholic (22-3) got a good look at how dangerous Apex’s faceoff game could be just after it had scored the game’s first goal.
In nine seconds, Apex senior Colby Lalicker won the faceoff, moved upfield, found Chandler Besser who then dished to an open Brendan Farrell for the tying goal.
That sent a wake-up call to Catholic coach Bo Turner.
After Apex grew its lead to 3-1, Catholic changed its strategy. They hounded Lalicker and Ryan Campbell – whoever was taking the faceoff for Apex – and tried to gain possession back almost immediately.
Catholic forced some errant passes and disrupted the groove Apex had so quickly gotten into.
“Early on we had some looks that we had planned on and looked good. They made some good adjustments that started to take that away. We never really got back in sync,” Hayden said. “We never just settled in.”
Catholic tacked on two more goals to tie it three at the end of the first quarter. Catholic then added the first two goals of the second quarter and had all momentum before Apex broke a 14-minute 47-second scoring drought thanks to Lalicker’s goal with 3:20 before half.
Farrell’s third goal of the game sent the two teams into halftime tied at five.
“They’ve good athletes. They changed up their defensive look a few times,” said Farrell, who had a game-high four goals to go with one assist.
Apex was outscored 3-1 in the third quarter as Catholic kept its disruptive presence on defense and turned Apex mistakes it into transition points.
Apex trailed 8-6 entering the fourth. Catholic, which had just suffered an ejection to Seamus Byrne, scored a goal with a man down and 10:13 left in the game, dealing a huge blow.
Apex goalie Tyler Nesbitt, the MVP of last year’s title game, had five saves. Besser had two goals and three assists. Jakob Harrison had a goal while Ryan Campbell and Jack Hayden added assists.
The same two schools will play Saturday for the girls lacrosse title.
This was Catholic’s fourth title, but first since the NCHSAA sanctioned the sport for the 2010 season.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps