APTOS—Another season is underway for an Aptos High baseball team that has reigned as the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League champion for the past two years.
However, the Mariners took a major blow after losing integral pieces in NCAA Division I pitching prospects Reed Moring and Owen Dueck, who are now competing at UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, respectively.
“Definitely, we lost some key components of the team last year,” said senior pitcher Gabe Gaeckle. “The pitching staff took a big hit, but I think the younger guys understand we have a lot to prove this year.”
Gaeckle and fellow junior teammate Jorden Espinoza will now try to carry the load on the mound, but they are still currently working through some early-season kinks to find their stride.
Given the expanse of the season, the Mariners’ 0-2 record to begin is just a drop in the bucket for their long-term goals.
There is a fine line to rely on Gaeckle–who committed to play at the University of Arkansas–to carry much of the load and overworking him to the point of injury.
Aptos manager Jason Biancardi plans on starting his stud pitcher about once a week for their bigger matchups such as Santa Cruz High.
“I think Gabe is going to be our workhorse this year,” Biancardi said.
Last season Aptos dominated the SCCAL with a 14-1 record in league play and 23-7 overall, galvanized by a deep roster and among the best pitching squads in California.
They lost to NorCal power Valley Christian in the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs.
The Mariners also sustained heavy losses on the mound, leaving players including Espinoza to fill those spots and have a much larger role with the team.
“He’s very talented and it’s just going to be whether he’s able to repeat himself every week and prove he can be consistent,” Gaeckle said.
Last season, Gaeckle proved why he was among the best players in the state and the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League’s Most Valuable Player.
He finished with a 4-0 record in 11 appearances—five starts—on the mound. He had a 1.03 ERA, giving up 13 runs—six earned—on 21 hits while compiling 92 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings pitched.
Gaeckle also hit for a .373 average (31-of-83) with a team-best five home runs, seven doubles, 24 RBI and scored 31 runs last year.
Espinoza believes much of the team’s recent success can be attributed to Biancardi as much as anyone.
“Coach Jason [Biancardi] really gets to know the kids and talks to you,” Espinoza said. “He talks to everyone specifically, and he’s an overall good coach.”
The Mariners will once again rely on their pitching staff and speed to guide them toward another favorable season. As dominant as they have been on the defensive end of the ball, their hitting still has a long way to go.
“Hitting usually is not as strong, but if we can just put the ball in play we’ll be OK,” Biancardi said. “It doesn’t matter if we hit home runs or doubles, just put the ball in play and force the other team to make a play.”
Moring and Dueck along with power hitter Jack Spinelli brought experience that was an invaluable asset for last year’s success. It’s something that is in short supply this season.
Several players including Gaeckle have played varsity since their sophomore year, but apart from that many players are still getting acclimated and adjusted to the higher level of play.
Only the rigors of game-to-game competition will give this Mariners squad the cohesion they need to succeed. But the only question now is if they will be able to do it quickly enough.
“I think our weakness is just coming together as a whole,” Gaeckle said. “It’s a lot of new guys so we still have to form that chemistry. If we just play fundamental baseball and everyone does their job, we’re going to be pretty good.”
After three seasons of dealing with the ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic, Aptos baseball finally has a chance to focus on the task at hand without worrying about distractions and uncertainties that came with the pandemic.
Espinoza said because of this he feels a greater sense of community within the team this season than in the previous year.
The Mariners lost against Salinas and Alverez, yet they’ll still look to take things one game at a time moving forward in order to reach their ultimate goal. Biancardi said this year’s expectations are still to win the SCCAL title and beyond.
“While we might not be as deep as last year, I still think we have the team to be able to win league this year and be able to compete in CCS,” he said.
The Mariners (0-2) will host San Lorenzo Valley (2-2) today at 4pm and Los Altos on Saturday at 11am.