APTOS — Forrest Hays leapt high for an offensive rebound, beat a pair of defenders to the ball and powered through contact for a three-point play.

The Aptos High bench erupted, and head coach Joseph Smith pumped his fist ever so slightly.

“It’s great having him back,” Smith said of Hays. “He brings so much to our team…We missed him.”

The Mariners’ star senior forward flashed some signs that he was returning to form in his first start in nearly a month, and Rashaun Wooden and Blake Welle combined for 45 points to move Aptos into the semifinals of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League basketball tournament with a 68-45 win over San Lorenzo Valley High on Tuesday night.

After missing a handful of games over the last few weeks with an ankle injury, Hays spent a heavy portion of his return on the bench after picking up a pair of fouls in the opening minutes, but played tough on the boards, and wreaked havoc defensively when he was on the court. 

“Having him back means a lot,” said Wooden, who poured in a game-high 23 points. “Defense, passing, he can score. He helps.”

And Aptos (17-8) will need all the help it can get for the tournament semifinal against St. Francis High on Thursday at Scotts Valley High.

The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip-off.

It will be the fourth time this season the two squads will meet.

St. Francis won the last two en route to a second-place finish in the SCCAL regular season.

“Some of these kids have been playing against or with each other since they were young,” Smith said. “The familiarity is there. It’s going to be a battle for us.”

Aptos trailed for only a few seconds in the first quarter on Tuesday, but quickly jumped back in front and never looked back.

The Mariners led 15-12 heading into the second thanks to a Jackson Carver 3-pointer, and put the clamps on defensively in the minutes leading up to the half to grab a 15-point lead at the break.

Wooden had 10 points in the second quarter alone, and brought the dozens in attendance to their feet with a breakaway dunk early in the third.

The senior guard led the defensive charge with four steals, all of which led to easy Aptos buckets.

The Mariners finished with 10 steals in total.

“We’ve been working on defense a lot in practice,” Wooden said. “Today, we put it all together and got a good defensive game.”

Wooden also had five rebounds and four assists, while Welle, a senior center, chipped in 10 rebounds to go along with his 22 points.

Senior forward Joe Mendoza was all energy, adding seven points, nine boards and a pair of blocks for Aptos, which has advanced to at least the semifinal round of the SCCAL tournament in every season since 2006.

“We played with some purpose and intensity tonight,” Smith said. “I thought, overall, we responded well to everything they did.”

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