The showdown between Aptos High and league-rival Santa Cruz High had quite the hype built up.
The Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League title wasn’t on the line, the Cardinals already had that wrapped up, but the Mariners were on a quest to spoil a perfect season in league play for their longtime adversary.
However, they came up short as Santa Cruz edged Aptos, 2-1, in the regular season finale.
Santa Cruz High senior GJ Hill hit a game-winning home run in the top of the seventh that helped the Cardinals keep their perfect season intact for a second straight year.
“Only so many people can say that, so it’s an amazing feeling and something none of us are ever going to forget,” Hill said.
Aptos High sophomore Nathaniel Brouse had a simple game plan going into Friday’s game: Unleash an arsenal of pitches for strikes, keep the energy up in the dugout and flat out dominate the game.
“We just really wanted to come out and beat this team,” Brouse said. “We didn’t want to go down 0-3. I wanted to do it for the seniors.”
Brouse did more than enough, racking up eight strikeouts, walking just two batters and allowed two runs on six hits in seven innings of work. Still, it wasn’t enough as the Cardinals (22-5, 15-0) have now gone undefeated in SCCAL play in back-to-back seasons.
The Mariners (19-6-1, 10-5) did score first in the fifth inning, which was set up after Josh Barry was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Jacob Mendoza followed up with sacrifice bunt, moving Barry to second base and then finally scoring after Casey Bailey got a base hit to make it 1-0.
“We had a tough game last time against them and we knew that we could compete,” said Aptos coach Jason Biancardi.
Biancardi said he noticed the team came into Friday’s game with some energy from the start, especially with Brouse coming in as the starter on the mound.
“(Brouse) has been great all year, his stuff was on right away,” Biancardi said.
Biancardi said the Cardinals have one of the better lineups in the Central Coast and the fact that Brouse gave up just two runs was amazing to him.
“Our defense made some really big plays. It was just a really good high school game,” Biancardi said. “Every pitch was huge, every pitch was intense.”
A pair of Cardinals took advantage on some bad pitches thrown by Brouse, starting in the sixth inning as designated hitter Javier Felix knocked one out of the ballpark to tie the game at 1-all.
An inning later, Hill gave Santa Cruz the lead after hitting his third home run of the season to make it 2-1.
Hill said the at-bat started with two changeups and Brouse came back with a slider to make the count at two strikes and a ball.
“Down 1-2, you’re just trying to see the ball and put your bat on it. Get a good pitch to hit,” Hill said. “I saw a good pitch and I was able to put it over the wall.”
Hill knew there was good shot of getting a home run as soon as he hit the ball and then watched it sail into right field, nearly hitting the crowd sitting on the bleachers.
“I saw it go over the fence and I don’t even know what I was feeling,” he said. “I was floating around the bases.”
The Santa Cruz High baseball team celebrates after defeating Aptos High, 2-1, in the teams' regular season finale. The Cardinals finished 15-0 in Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League play and now have back-2-back unbeaten seasons in league play. (Juan Reyes — LIFE)
Hill, who is a MLB Draft prospect and has committed to NCAA Division I Arizona State, finished 2-for-4 with a home run and an RBI. He started the game with a leadoff base hit, but Brouse retired the following three batters in the first inning
Brouse remained solid and found himself getting out of jams early on in the game, including in the third inning when Santa Cruz threatened to score with a base runner stranded on third.
“You gotta give credit where credit is due,” said Hill about Brouse’s performance on the mound. “(Brouse) pitched a really good game and we were battling all day, but we felt like the whole time we were gonna come out on top.”
Hill said the Cardinals felt very optimistic going into Friday’s league finale against Mariners, especially after a 10-1 win on Tuesday.
“We felt very confident in our ability to come out and get one more,” he said.
The Cardinals, who are ranked No. 112 in the state by maxpreps.com, will compete in the upcoming Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs.
“They have a lot of good players all around,” Brouse said. “I just wanted to come out here and do what I can do.”
Brouse said playing Santa Cruz was great preparation for what lies ahead in the CCS playoffs because there will be a lot of similar teams like them.
The Mariners, who placed second in the SCCAL, will compete in the CCS D-II playoffs.
Brouse got a taste of the postseason last year as a freshman. He said he wants to do a lot better, especially after a 14-0 loss against Burlingame in the first round of the CCS D-II playoffs.
“We just wanna go to CCS and play our butts off,” he said.
Biancardi agreed with Brouse and said this was the best team going into the playoffs.
“No matter who you play, they’re going to be good,” he said. “When you play a team like this, that’s one one of the best and you compete, it gives you a little bit of confidence and we’ve been playing great baseball all year.”