Aptos High sophomore Abby Sherwood had a team-best 13 points for the Mariners in a 58-32 loss to Mills High in the Central Coast Section Division III girls basketball semifinals at Aptos High School on Thursday, Feb. 22. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

Aptos High School won a bid to host a Central Coast Section Division III girls basketball semifinals game no matter which teams were going to be competing that evening.

It so happened the No. 3 Mariners earned a spot as the “visitors” at their home gym that was packed with enthusiastic students cheering for the “home” team. 

However, it wasn’t enough to help overcome a quick and fundamentally sound No. 2 Mills High squad that ran through Aptos for a 58-32 victory on Feb. 22.

Senior guard Laurel Southall made 3-of-5 from beyond the arch, finishing with nine points and four rebounds for the Mariners.

“It’s tough against fast teams,” Southall said. “It’s tough to run our offense, there’s a lot of screens, a lot of cuts, we just need to be precise. Just all the pressure of the crowd and everyone. We’ve dealt with that but this was just a lot.”

Mills—the defending D-III champion—stayed ahead the entire first half and had a 32-13 lead going into halftime.

Aptos went through a scoring drought that started with a little more than two minutes remaining in the second quarter. It lasted up until the 3:11 mark in the third when Southall stopped the bleeding with one of her three 3-pointers. 

However, the Vikings still had a 42-17 lead and never looked back. 

“They were quicker than us at almost every position on the court, which made it really hard for us to run our offense,” Aptos coach Bruce Funk said.

Junior forward Berkeley Ashby played a strong defensive game. She collected seven rebounds, two blocks and four points.

Sophomore Abby Sherwood could not find her shot in the first half, yet she was solid coming out of the break and finished with a team-best 13 points. 

Freshman Gabby Wickham was coming off a 27-point performance in Tuesday’s quarterfinals win over Del Mar. On Thursday, she was held to just four points as she was pressured by Mills’ strong guard play.  

Aptos finished with a 19-9 overall record, which was an 11-game turnaround from last season. They also beat Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League rival Santa Cruz High in the league tournament championship.

The Cardinals captured a regular season league championship with a 10-0 record in SCCAL play, yet the Mariners—8-2 in league play—walked away with the league tournament title banner. 

“It was just such a momentous game for us,” Southall said. “It didn’t matter where we played, Cabrillo [College], our court, their court. It was a really good game, we’ve worked really hard and we’ve worked together, and we just pushed it.” 

A victory over Santa Cruz was always the goal throughout the four years Southall played at Aptos.

“Getting that league [tournament] title just pushed us through CCS to get through that first game,” Southall said. “This game was a little more challenging with Mills, but I think beating Santa Cruz definitely turned it around.” 

Southall also noted they had enough players this season to play 5-on-5 in practice after struggling to get enough bodies on the court in the 2022-23 season. She said getting in a full practice session was important to build conditioning overall and build team bonding on and off the court.

“I think that no matter what the outcome is, I’m just glad that we came this far,” Southall said. “I’m just really proud of all these girls.”

Funk saw the growth from the players each day and he enjoyed coaching the group this season. He was proud of the tremendous improvement both as a team and as individuals. 

For those outside the school, the Mariners might have exceeded expectations that were set prior to the season. As for Funk, he always had an inkling they were going to be competitive from the first day of practice.

“I just didn’t know whether we could make that final little leap and they really did in the second half of the season,” he said. “That’s why we were able to beat Santa Cruz that one time, and why we were able to get through the quarterfinals. I think we just ran into the best team in our division, [Mills is] really good.”

Division V

At Summit Shasta 59, St. Francis 20: Aaliysah Gomez and Peyton Orradre each had a team-best six points for the No. 3 seed Sharks in a loss to the No. 2 Black Bears in the D-V semifinals.

Fellow teammate Maya Calfee contributed four, and both Maeve Flynn and Nevaeh Litel each finished with two points.

St. Francis finished with a 22-3 overall record and captured the Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress Division crown with a perfect 14-0 record in league play.  

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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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