Aptos High senior Luke Garvey launches a 3-pointer over the head of Burlingame High's Ryan Dougherty during the teams' Central Coast Section Division III boy basketball quarterfinals game at Aptos High School on Tuesday, Feb 20. (Raul Ebio/The Pajaronian)

For a minute, it almost seemed like Aptos High was going to get over the hump of getting past newly formed rival Burlingame High in the Central Coast Section boys basketball playoffs. 

Instead, the No. 2 seed Mariners came up short in their attempt of a comeback following a 47-43 loss to the No. 7 Panthers in the Division III quarterfinals Feb. 20. 

It was the fourth straight year Burlingame has shown Aptos the exit doors. Senior guard Johnny Cornejo has been part of all four defeats, including the D-III finals in 2022. 

“It’s a stinger. It’s a hard one to take, especially our seniors having their last game and not coming out here anymore to play on the court,” he said. “It’s kind of sad, devastating. But at the same time we gotta look at the younger group. Gotta see the future for them and see what they have going on.”

It was a tight first quarter as expected with Aptos taking a 15-13 lead. The Mariners couldn’t buy a bucket, including their leading scorer Isaiah Ackerman, who was held to 13 points on Tuesday night.

“We all had to find shots and usually it’s us three: Mateo (Calfee), Isaiah (Ackerman) and me,  we usually look for the shots,” Cornejo said. “It was a good team effort. We still had a good game all together, I think we just didn’t have it together out there.”

The missed shots allowed Burlingame to hang around and eventually take its first lead of the game. 

Aptos coach Brian Bowyer said the Mariners have been shooting the ball well as of recently. They had plenty of opportunities to score Tuesday night, yet the shots just weren’t falling in. 

“It seemed like it was just rimming in and out on every shot,” he said. “Everything looked good. We were running our offense but they made more shots in important parts of the game than we did.”

Cornejo earned his way to the free throw line just before the break that cut the deficit at 25-22 going into halftime. He finished with eight points.

In the third stanza, the Panthers’ defense was suffocating Aptos with their half court press defense and proceeded to go on an 8-0 run to extend their lead at 33-22. 

“It was kind of hard for us to get inside and take some easy shots inside,” Cornejo said. “My style of play is outside the court and when I shoot it’s pretty much open for me to shoot.” 

The Mariners were also losing the rebound battle throughout the night and mostly because the ball wasn’t bouncing their way, literally.

“I feel like a lot of times we were boxing out, doing what we needed to do. It just seemed like long rebounds were bouncing to [Burlingame],” Bowyer said. “It seemed like the basketball Gods, on loose balls, the ball would bounce their way. Things were right for them, but they earned that by how hard they played.”

Ackerman provided some type of spark for Aptos after making an acrobatic layup and was fouled in the process. His three-point play cut Burlingame’s lead down to 33-27.

The Mariners looked sharper in the fourth quarter, locking down on defense and finally making some wide open shots.

One of those shots was a 3-pointer from junior Ryan Solorio, who made it a one point score at 40-39.

The Mariners needed to make one more stop on defense and initially it seemed like they did. 

That was until Alain Kazarian threw up a contested 3-point shot that went in for the dagger. He finished tied with a team-best 15 points for the Panthers.

“They had me locked down, the shot clock was running out,” Kazarian said. “I took one dribble to the left, saw some space, felt good and let it fly. We brought that energy back with us defensively and stayed solid for the rest of the game.”

Kazarian credited Aptos for playing solid defense down the stretch and the capability of putting up points in a flash.  

“They can score at all three levels,” Kazarian said. “It’s definitely tough to contain them but I think we did a good job. They went on their runs but we also went on our runs, and we kept the game in our control.”

Other scorers for Aptos include Jackson Bloom with seven points, Mateo Calfee added six, Luke Garvey had four and Lawrence Ingram IV contributed two.  

Despite the loss, it was still overall a successful season for Aptos. Especially a season where they can beat rival Santa Cruz at least once.

“League was really competitive,” Cornejo said. “We had a good team all around and I think we had a really good successful season.”

The Mariners finished with an 18-9 overall record, and placed second in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League standings with an 8-2 record in league play.

Bowyer told the players after the game there was no reason to hang their heads low and he was proud of how they showed up prepared, ready to work.

“We played some good teams, lost to some good teams,” he said. “Even when we lost it was never from the lack of effort. Some nights shots weren’t dropping for us, but we brought the effort every single night, 27 nights this year. What else can you ask from them?”

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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