The Aptos High softball team is expected to be contenders for the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League crown in 2024. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

Mother Nature hasn’t been too kind for Aptos High, which has yet to begin the 2024 softball season because of cancellations due to last month’s rainy weather.  

But a little bit of rain hasn’t deterred a young, and very hungry, Mariners squad, which continues to grind during the delay and are eager to get back on the field. 

“We are doing what we can with our field conditions being so wet, something we can’t control,” said Aptos coach Phil Rojas. “We just got to be ready when games start up.”

The Mariners will finally get a chance to see some playing time in their season opener on Wednesday at North Monterey County with first pitch slated for 4pm. 

Since taking over the softball program in 2015, Rojas has led Aptos to four Central Coast Section playoff appearances, and captured one Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League title in 2018.

This year, the Mariners will field 14 players this season, including a trio of freshmen in Nova Neu, Emma Burgueno and Mya Najera-White who are already making an impact on the field.

Rojas said the roster is a bit on the younger side, but they are an experienced group with plenty of travel ball experience, a luxury Aptos doesn’t always get.

“These girls are young and can play. Very excited for this program’s future,” Rojas said.

The underclassmen will turn to team captains Milenna Carbajal and the Fulton sisters—Bailey and Raegan.

In 2023, Carbajal batted an average of .375 (24-for-62), including a team-best three home runs to go along with five doubles, two triples, 21 RBIs and 12 runs scored, according to the Max Preps website.

In the circle, she had a 4.60 earned run average with 85 strikeouts in 112 2/3 innings pitched. 

Carbajal—who will compete for Arlington Baptist University in Texas in 2025—noted she sees something special in this year’s team and expects nothing but excellence. 

“My expectations for this year are definitely high, especially being my senior season,” she said. “I feel this year’s team can be the best one in my years at Aptos.”

Carbajal has been a vital part of Aptos’ program the past three seasons, helping lead them to a CCS Division IV playoff appearance as the team’s main workhorse in the circle in 2023. 

Rojas cited how Carbajal has done a great job being a leader, and she understands how important this senior year is to her.

“Milenna [Carbajal] really wants it this season,” Rojas said. “Right at the end of last season she came up to me to let me know she was ready to give it all she got her senior year…she wants to go out with a bang.”

Also returning to the lineup is junior Bailey Fulton, who Rojas believes is NCAA Division I material with blazing speed, an accurate arm and a strong bat. 

Last season, Fulton batted an impressive .597 average and was second on the team in hits with 43, including four doubles and three triples. 

Another Fulton to watch out for is senior Raegan, whom Rojas described as a “coach’s best friend”.

“Raegan can play anywhere and is willing to play anywhere for us,” he said. “As soon as we get to practice she is asking me where I need her.” 

Aptos will square off in league play against familiar foes in Harbor, Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Soquel and defending SCCAL champion San Lorenzo Valley.

The Mariners will host the Falcons in the teams’ league opener on March 14 at 4:30pm. Rojas said he feels optimistic for not just his team but the future of the SCCAL.

“This is one of those years that everyone in our league can be somewhat competitive, it is really great to see…talking to coaches at the preseason meeting got me excited”  Rojas said

Rojas knows the roster looks great on paper, but he also realizes the work that is in front of them to achieve their goals. 

“I honestly believe we can compete with anyone in our league, but we have to keep doing our job and stay focused,” he said.

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