APTOS—The Aptos High baseball team went into last week’s pivotal meeting against Santa Cruz High eager to prove itself the best team in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League.
Gabe Gaeckle was instrumental in helping the Mariners beat the Cardinals, 9-0, on April 14, responding strongly to a loss they suffered just two days earlier.
The junior right-hander got it done on the mound and in the batter’s box. Gaeckle threw a two-hitter while recording 11 strikeouts in six innings, and he batted 2-for-3 at the plate with a home run and three RBIs.
Gaeckle said his first home run of the season was an exciting moment and the icing on the cake to a crucial victory over a league rival.
“We wanted this game bad,” Gaeckle said. “They beat us on Tuesday so we came out hungry. I just tried to stay within myself the whole time.”
With the win, the Mariners now lead the season series 2-1 and they sit atop of the SCCAL with an 8-1 record. Santa Cruz dropped to 7-2 in league play.
Emotions ran high throughout the tie-breaking game.
A group of raucous fans perched on top of the hill past right field, cheering and jeering for the home team.
Parents behind the plate were getting vocal, and constant chatter came from players in both dugouts pumped up on the energy of the occasion.
At one point, the umpire had to address the crowd as well as players in the dugout to keep it all under control.
“It’s always fun having a rival, it’s what makes the games fun. I don’t mind at all, I love playing in it,” Gaeckle said.
Aptos coach Jason Biancardi said their matchup against Santa Cruz usually makes for exciting games.
“I feel like every year, Santa Cruz and us, we usually have competitive teams and we are usually battling for league, so it just brings the emotions every game,” Biancardi said.
The Mariners set the tone in the first inning. Gaeckle found himself in a situation with a runner in scoring position and no outs.
But he managed to get out of the jam after he struck out two batters and forced a fly-out, getting a roar from his teammates and coaches in the dugout.
In the bottom half of the opening frame, Gaeckle was hit by a pitch and later scored the first run of the game on a passed ball.
Biancardi said getting the early run was huge for them in getting the win.
“I think that was big, that first run,” he said. “Especially with Gabe pitching, he’s not giving up a lot of runs and so it kinda gives us momentum and loosens us up a little bit.”
In the third, Gaeckle loosened the Mariners up even more. He hit a solo line-drive home run to center field off Cardinals’ starting pitcher Langston Burkett.
The Mariners faced three different Santa Cruz pitchers in the sixth, batting through their entire line up and scoring seven runs on five hits.
Owen Dueck, James Craig, Sam Chitwood, Jack Spinelli, Edwards Peters and Gaeckle all had RBIs in the sixth inning for Aptos.
Biancardi said the batters improved after striking out 12 times and a couple of big errors against the Cardinals in Tuesday’s loss.
“Our at bats were a lot better, we weren’t swinging at the high pitch and we were putting guys on,” Biancardi said.
Quinn Hocom, a senior, came in to relieve Gaeckle in the top of the seventh, getting two strikeouts and a flyout to end the game.
Biancardi said getting two of three games against Santa Cruz was crucial especially with the season starting to come to an end.
“Our pitching has been great all year. If our bats can just get hot we’ll be fine.” Biancardi said. “It’s great we now have a game up first, so we’re in the driver’s seat.”
Aptos (11-6, 8-1) will play at San Lorenzo Valley High (6-12, 3-6) on Tuesday at 4pm.