Aptos High junior Mileena Carbajal was the top pitcher for the Mariners softball team this season. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

APTOS—The Aptos High softball team is back in action and looking to turn some heads in the Santa Cruz County Athletic League this season. 

With a well-balanced group of veterans and experienced youth, Mariners manager Phil Rojas said this could be one of the most talented squads he’s ever coached.

“This team is going to be so fun to watch, we have so much speed and are well-balanced all around the field,” he said. 

Aptos last season finished with an 11-11 overall record and placed third in the SCCAL with a 6-6 record in league play. 

Rojas believes this year’s group has what it takes to make an appearance in the Central Coast Section playoffs, which the Mariners haven’t done since 2019.

“We are going to give it our best shot but I feel like this team has what it takes to make a run for it,” Rojas said.

Aptos will be without the services of four-year pitching ace Ada Neu due to graduation. Rojas will look to junior Mileena Carbajal to lead the team in the circle this season.

Carbajal helped the Mariners kick off the SCCAL season with a 15-2 win (5 innings) against Santa Cruz on Thursday. She recorded five strikeouts and gave up one walk in three innings of work for the victory.

Rojas said that Carbajal is a great all around player who has about five standout pitches in her arsenal and has a strong bat at the plate. 

Carbajal said she took in as much information as she could the past two seasons from Neu and she doesn’t feel pressure about becoming the team’s top pitcher. 

“I really learned a lot from Ada [Neu] while she was here and I believe I can help this team to a great season,” Carbajal said.

The Mariners will carry 16 players on the roster that includes five freshmen, four sophomores, two juniors and four seniors leading the way. 

“We got some great young talent here, very excited for the direction of this program,” Rojas said.

Some of that great talent is freshman standout catcher Lanies Nunez, who so far looks outstanding working behind the plate.

“Lanies is so smart behind the plate, she has been so impressive and I’m looking forward to seeing the type of season she can have this year,” Rojas said.

On defense, Carbajal can count on sophomore standout Bailey Fulton to make some plays at the shortstop position.

“Bailey [Fulton] is such a talented player, so fast and has a high softball IQ…she is so quick out of the box and her ability to not just swing the bat but slap is a big attribute to have,” Rojas said. “I believe she has [NCAA Division I] material.”

Fulton led the way with her bat in Thursday’s win over Santa Cruz, batting 4-for-5 with a triple, two RBIs and two runs scored. Fellow teammate Kailani Aguayo batted 3-for-3 with a triple, a pair of RBIs and two runs scored. 

The Mariners also have their spark plug of the group in senior second baseman Jewels Chavez, who was named one of the team captains and was honored to be given that title. She batted 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, three RBIs and one run scored in Thursday’s win.

“It meant a lot to be named captain,” she said. “I’m going to do everything I can to keep the team fired up and ready to go every day.”

In the outfield, expect to see senior speedster Charlotte Ramirez make some spectacular catches this season. She has displayed great speed and range in the outfield, along with a great arm that could be used as a run-saver this season.

Due to recent weather, the Mariners have played just two games and have had only a handful of on-field practices. They began with a 13-1 win against Monte Vista Christian on Feb. 24, followed by a 12-1 loss to Pacific Grove on March 8. 

Aptos was scheduled to compete in the Monterey Peninsula Softball Invitational, but that was canceled due to the rain storms.

“It’s been tough, especially where we are, our field takes a beating with all the rain,” Rojas said. “I just hope we can get some softball weather soon.”

Rojas said they’ll continue to put in the work and they won’t let a little wet weather get in the way of them improving. The players are currently occupying the gym and using any resources they have available.

Aptos will once again compete against familiar foes in Harbor, San Lorenzo Valley, Santa Cruz, Soquel and Scotts Valley at a chance for a league title this season.

“SLV is really the team to beat, they have a great all around team so they are going to give us a hard time,” Rojas said. “Coming out with a win early against them would be huge for us.”

Aptos (2-1, 1-0) will continue league play at San Lorenzo Valley High (3-1, 1-0) on Friday at 4:30pm.

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