APTOS—Aptos High lost 10 seniors from last year’s boys basketball squad due to graduation including standout guard Cameron Saldaña and center Jack Spinelli, who led them to a Central Coast Section title game just a year ago.
Senior guard Trevor Brady said nobody expected them to win a share of the league title or let alone make a deep run in the CCS playoffs again.
So it was a little surprising when the No. 3 seed Mariners had No. 2 Burlingame on the ropes in the Division III semifinals before eventually falling in a 42-37 loss Feb. 23 in front of the home crowd at Aptos High.
“That just shows how good Aptos basketball is every year,” Brady said. “You’d think people would learn by now.”
Brady finished with a team-high 10 points and fellow teammate Isaiah Ackerman finished with eight points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
Junior guard Lawrence Ingram IV contributed eight points, senior Kevin Hamlyn had two points and five rebounds, and senior Harrison Bloom had five points and four rebounds for Aptos, which finished the season with a 19-9 overall record.
“We came out here we wanted to win, we fought hard,” Brady said. “They just ended up shooting well in the end.”
Aptos coach Brian Bowyer said each season starts off differently and it was no secret that earlier in the year they were playing horribly, getting beat badly by opponents.
“Coaches were looking around saying I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said. “We didn’t have mental toughness, physical toughness, We didn’t have a lot of that.”
It was going to be a long season unless the Mariners found a way to turn things around, which they did.
Aptos went on a seven game win-streak to close out the regular season and were co-champion of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League along with Santa Cruz High, which split the season series one game apiece and went 9-1 in league play this season.
They were hoping to extend the season against Burlingame and it looked promising from the start after Ackerman got the “visiting” crowd excited after making a pair of blocks. But sophomore forward Jeremiah Phillips hushed the crowd after he gave the Panthers a 12-2 lead in the opening quarter.
Nothing was going right from the start for Aptos until Brady hit a 3-pointer that stopped the scoring drought.
Aptos coach Brian Bowyer said the Panthers ran a lot of backdoor action and the last few games the Mariners got hurt a lot with the same play. After watching game film, he said they tried to run it a handful of times.
“We didn’t give it up, I was so proud of my guys,” he said.
Bowyer mentioned the goal was to make every possession difficult, which they did when the Mariners pulled to within three after senior Kevin Hamlyn drove it to the hoop to cut the deficit to 19-14 going into halftime.
“They play good defense,” Brady said. “They do something very similar to what we do. We kind of understood what they did, but they were good.”
One of the biggest challenges of facing Burlingame is it has one of the best half court man defenses Aptos has played this season. Bowyer said the Panthers pride themselves on the half court defense and they do a really good job getting their hands up on their shooters.
“We knew it was going to be difficult to score, we knew it was going to be difficult for them to score,” he said.
Aptos needed a spark coming out the break. That’s when junior guards Ingram IV and Mateo Calfee cut the deficit back down to three at 28-25 with a pair of 3-pointers.
The defense was a critical part of the Mariners’ game, forcing turnovers that led to transition points.
Ingram gave the Mariners their first lead of the game, 29-28, with a jump shot and momentum was definitely swaying in their direction. Ackerman hit a pair of free throw attempts that put them ahead by three points.
But Aptos saw its lead quickly evaporate after Burlingame went on a 7-0 run including a 3-pointer by senior guard Zaden Martin that helped them recapture the lead. Senior guard MJ Dowd drained a gut-wrenching three-point shot that put the game out of reach.
“It really was a game of runs, we scored eight in a row and they went and scored nine, we kept going back and forth,” Brady said. “It was just whoever got hot at the end.”
Brady was used to going into a season as one of the youngsters until this year when he felt like there was some responsibility on his shoulders. Plus, he felt a lot more attached to his teammates.
It wasn’t until the final game against Monterey High at the 7th annual Carmel Invitational where Brady realized they had a shot to be good. The Mariners beat the Toreadors, 68-65, by playing their best defense up to that point.
“It’s hard to overhype for us, we’re not the biggest team,” he said. “If we’re locked in and we’re playing our defense, we’re running and doing what we need to do, we can beat any team.”
What impressed Bowyer the most was the toughness players brought that he didn’t see at the start of the season. He even asked the team who was going to be that one player to do some special things.
At the end of the season, it was every starter and the first three guys off the bench who balled out and most of it came on the defensive side of the ball.
“It was everybody, it was just a collective toughness,” Bowyer said. “We weren’t going to outscore teams, we had to hold them down and if we held them down, we could outscore them.”