Aptos High senior Ed Peters is a key returner for the Mariners baseball team that is off to a 2-0 start in Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League action this season. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

Aptos High made its return to the diamond in February on a mission for a fourth straight league baseball championship in 2024. 

It won’t be a cakewalk, though.

Led by ninth-year head coach Jason Biancardi, he knows the Mariners will once again be the target of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League, especially with their most recent success. 

“We know we are the team to beat, everyone plays their hardest against us,” he said. “We are talented, but don’t take anyone lightly.”

The Mariners were treading on choppy waters following a rough start in non-league play with a 10-3 loss to Menlo Atherton and most recently a 3-1 defeat to Los Gatos on March 16.

Aptos currently owns a 3-4 overall record to start the young season. 

Biancardi said they’ll have their fair share of close games in league play, but he always plans their non-league portion of the schedule with challenging opponents to prepare for the Central Coast Section playoffs.

“That’s where it really starts. Those are the teams we are going to see,” Biancardi said.

Aptos is returning just five starters from 2023, yet Biancardi continues to keep a high outlook for his club.

“We are expecting to win the league again this year and get our fourth title in a row but, of course, we are shooting for more,” he said. 

A key returner is senior Matt Hood—the SCCAL’s co-Most Valuable Player in 2023. He led the Mariners by batting a .346 average (28-of-81), including five doubles, 26 runs scored, seven RBIs and five stolen bases.

On the mound, the star utility player had a 4-1 record with a 0.59 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings pitched. 

Hood set high expectations for his final season in a Mariners uniform and he hopes to make a run in the postseason.

“Hoping to repeat as league champions for the fourth straight year,” he said. “After falling short in the past we have a stronger desire than ever to win coming into the season.”

In 2023, Aptos earned the top seed in the CCS Division II field, but it was eliminated in the semifinals following a 9-1 loss to No. 4 Leigh High. Prior to that, the Mariners lost to Valley Chrisitian twice in the D-I quarterfinals in ‘22 and ‘21.   

So far, team chemistry has been an essential factor for Aptos as it begins the SCCAL season. They slipped past Scotts Valley, 8-6, in the league-opener March 15, followed by an 8-4 win over San Lorenzo Valley on Tuesday afternoon. 

“Our chemistry has been great. We have a talented group, everyone has been playing with each other for three or more years,” Biancardi said.

Hood echoed his coach’s statement by saying this year’s squad has built one of the best connections out of any varsity team he’s been a part of at Aptos. 

Another key returner is Texas Tech University commit Jorden Espinoza, who racked up 12 hits for the Mariners, including three doubles and eight RBIs in 2023. On the mound, the standout senior pitcher tossed 39 1/3 innings with a 1.42 ERA and struck out 69 batters.

Senior infielder Edward Peters and junior Isaiah Work are also making a big impact in Aptos’ lineup this season. 

In 2023, Peters batted a .266 average with 25 hits, good for second on the team behind Hood, and was a stalwart on defense with just one error in 26 games played. Work batted a .292 average (21-of-72) to earn all-league second team honors.

“We don’t have that guy that thinks he is better than everyone, we have talent, but everyone on this team is selfless which brought us closer” Biancardi said.

Next up, Aptos (3-4, 2-0) will play a non-league contest at Mission College Prep in San Luis Obispo on Saturday at noon. 

Next up, Aptos (3-4, 2-0) will host Soquel in SCCAL action on Thursday at 4pm, and a non-league contest at Mission College Prep in San Luis Obispo on Saturday at noon.

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