APTOS—It takes a high degree of talent and persistence to win a championship in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League, which is why it’s rare that a baseball team can manage to maintain a level of dominance for multiple years.
Aptos High has surpassed all expectations by winning back-to-back league titles behind its consistent and remarkable pitching capabilities.
The Mariners secured the SCCAL championship several games before they faced off against Bellarmine College Prep (17-11-1, 6-7) on Friday afternoon, giving them a chance to prepare for a strong playoff run.
Aptos (18-6, 12-2) on May 12 secured a 5-3 victory against Bellarmine and headed to the Central Coast Section playoffs with the taste of victory still fresh.
The Mariners earned the top seed in the Division II field and will host No. 8 Pioneer High (16-9-1) on Saturday at 11am.
“We’ve been playing really good all around but it’s our pitching,” said Aptos head coach Jason Biancardi. “It feels good to beat a team like this because it’s probably similar to what we’ll see in the playoffs.”
The Mariners drew first blood with a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but Bellarmine was able to quickly fire back with a home run by Calem Filipek, his third of the season.
The next few innings played out as a defensive stalemate. It was interrupted for several minutes after senior James Craig—one of Aptos’ integral pieces who leads the team from home plate with a batting average of .357—took a fastball to his arm.
Craig left the game early nursing his injured arm, yet Biancardi believes the injury isn’t too serious and he will return come playoff time.
A switch was flipped in the fifth inning for Aptos, which scored four runs to give itself a 5-1 advantage. Junior Edward Peters batted 3-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI.
“When we saw guys getting on base their pitcher got a little rattled and we were able to execute,” Biancardi said.
The difference in the fifth was the Mariners’ ability to perpetually find themselves on base along with fielding errors by Bellarmine—one of which led to two runs and one that was hit by Gaeckle.
Gaeckle—who has had one of the most impressive careers Aptos’ baseball program has ever seen—had only one word to describe the emotions running through his head while playing in his final regular-season game in a Mariners uniform.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “It was a great time playing for this program. Last home game, luckily we got the win. It was a great stretch of Aptos baseball for me.”
In games that Gaeckle—a MLB Draft prospect who is committed to University of Arkansas—has pitched for Aptos, they have gone undefeated by going 7-0.
This season, he boasts an ERA of 0.40 and 105 strikeouts in seven games, while leading his team with an on-base percentage of .457.
“I looked at his numbers and I’ve never seen a high school pitcher with numbers like that,” said Bellarmine coach Nate Sutton. “Sounds like the kid is going to be in the first couple rounds in the draft.”
After the red hot fifth inning for Aptos, things cooled down for them when Filipek once again made contact with a powerful hit with an RBI to break their cold streak, giving the Bells’ dugout something to cheer about.
However, it was not enough as the Mariners finished the game with solid defense to close out the regular-season finale on a high note going into the playoffs.
For the past two years, their run in the playoffs has been cut short by state power Valley Christian. Aptos will find out in the coming days where it will rank among the section’s elite, and how difficult it will be to maintain its historic run.
If they win, the Mariners will play the winner of Saturday’s quarterfinals game between No. 4 Leigh (17-10) and No. 5 Sacred Heart Cathedral (14-15). The other side of the bracket includes No. 3 Burlingame (16-7) against No. 6 Junipero Serra (15-11), and No. 2 Bellarmine against SCCAL-rival No. 7 Santa Cruz (19-7).
“We’re feeling good,” Biancardi said. “We think we can compete with anybody in CCS, especially with Gabe [Gaeckle] going.”