Aptos High sophomore Jorden Espinoza recorded six strikeouts in his debut for the Mariners baseball team March 29. (Marcello Hutchinson-Trujillo/special to The Pajaronian)

APTOS—The Aptos High baseball team is off to a great start this season thanks to its strong pitching.

Jorden Espinoza, a sophomore, was the latest Mariners’ pitcher that helped extend their win streak to six with a 10-1 non-league victory against Alvarez High on Tuesday.

The left-hander had a strong performance during his first varsity start, giving up one hit and no runs while recording six strikeouts in four innings.

“It felt great,” Espinoza said. “It was a lot of pressure because it was my first start and because I’m a sophomore.”

Espinoza got into a jam in the second inning with the bases loaded and just one out. 

After a mound visit by pitching coach Dave Anderson, Espinoza took his time and worked his way out of it the inning, getting two strikeouts to end the frame. 

“I just had to slow my pace down and throw strikes, just to get it in there and hope that my defense could help me out as well,” Espinoza said. 

Espinoza started the season on the junior varsity team, but was quickly pulled up to the varsity team, which is in pursuit repeating as Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League champion.

“It was really big for me and I’m glad I pulled off a good outing,” Espinoza said. “I’ve just been praying for my moment and I got it today.”

Espinoza is a new addition that adds even more depth to what is already a strong and experienced pitching staff. 

That includes two of the Mariners’ trusted pitchers in Reed Morning, who is committed to play at UC Santa Barbara next year, and Gabe Gaeckle, who is committed to play at UCLA.

Both pitchers have been playing at the varsity level since their freshmen years.

“Our pitching staff have all had at least two to three [years] experience pitching varsity baseball, which is rare nowadays,” said Aptos coach Jason Biancardi. “They’ve gained their confidence and learned things throughout the years. This year we have a lot of experience and confidence, and it’s showing.”

The rest of the pitching staff includes Chase Aiken, Owen Dueck and Quinn Hocom. Aptos ranks first in the Central Coast Section with 140 strikeouts this season, just ahead of Saratoga High (119) and Valley Christian (112). 

Aiken, a senior right-hander, took the mound in the fifth inning on Tuesday looking to protect the Mariners’ 9-0 lead. He walked the first batter he faced and gave up a run-scoring double to Alvarez senior Aden Ramierez. 

That would be the lone run of the evening for the Eagles. Aiken tossed two straight shutout innings, allowing Aptos to comfortably grab the win.

The Mariners’ offense also exploded Tuesday with six runs scored in the fourth inning. 

Senior infielder Jack Spinelli batted 2-for-3 with three RBIs. He added an offensive force that was absent in the Mariners’ first half of the season. 

Aptos has scored 49 runs in its last five games compared to 17 runs in its first five games. Spinelli is batting at .513 with 13 RBIs on the season.

“It felt good, we’re starting to hit the ball well and we’re definitely connecting a lot more as a team,” Spinelli said. “We’re starting to tag along a lot of hits, and it’s kind of getting contagious, so it’s good to see that going into a tough stretch coming up for us.”

Spinelli said the team definitely has built up confidence coming off of their recent wins.

“It feels good to be with the guys,” Spinelli said. “This is pretty much the same team as last year, we’ve had a few more additions but [team chemistry] is always at an all-time high, especially because we’re winning.”

Aptos currently sits atop of the SCCAL with a 7-0 record and the Mariners  own a 9-4 overall record this season. They have a pair of non-league games scheduled starting at Santa Clara High on Saturday at 11am. 

The Mariners will host Los Gatos High on April 9 at 11 am, followed by a league meeting at Santa Cruz High (7-5, 6-1) on April 12 at 4pm.

Biancardi said every league game can usually be pretty close and it’s been that way for years, especially because a majority of the players know each other.

The Mariners and Cardinals—currently first and second in the league standings—are front-runners to capture the SCCAL title this season. But other teams within the league could give both of them a run for their money. 

“We won league last year and so far we’re looking really good this year to repeat,” Biancardi said.

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