The inning seemed like it would never end.
And when it did, it felt like the game was all but over.
Sophomore shortstop Shea Garcia capped a 10-run explosion with a monster grand slam over the centerfield fence, and Aptos High cruised to a 10-6 victory over San Lorenzo Valley High on Friday to clinch its first Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League title since 2011.
“It took us some time,” said Aptos head coach Phil Rojas, “but it’s rewarding now.”
Early on, it looked like the Mariners (13-9, 11-1) would have to wait until next season to end their league title drought.
San Lorenzo Valley (15-4, 10-2) jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the winner-take-all meeting between the SCCAL’s top two teams. But Aptos erased the deficit with a heart-wrenching 10-run third inning that lasted nearly a half hour.
The Mariners had 14 at-bats in the never-ending frame. Sophomore outfielder Vanessa Segura hit a go-ahead, two-run single in her second at-bat of the inning to make it 6-5. And Garcia cleared the bases by smashing her fifth homer of the season into the deepest part of the park.
Junior pitcher Julia Cano kept the hard-hitting Cougars at bay the rest of the way, and Aptos morphed into a big jumping mess of smiles, visors and ponytails after securing the title with the final out.
“To see us all come together and pull through a lot of adversity, we just played our hearts out,” Garcia said. “That was just a great building block for this program.”
And a nice confidence boost heading into next week’s return to the Central Coast Section playoffs. The Mariners, who missed the postseason last year, will find out who, where and when it will play at Saturday’s section seeding meeting.
“I think we can go pretty far, especially with our hitting,” Cano said. “It’s so good right now. Hitting is contagious.”
It took a while for Aptos to catch the bug, but it turned into freight train when it finally did.
Senior infielder Mariah Sanchez was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Junior infielder Martina Churchill also finished 2-for-4 with a double. Segura went 2-for-3 with two scored runs and the two RBIs. And Garcia, who is verbally committed to NCAA Division I Portland State, matched her teammates, going 2-for-4 with four RBIs and a pair of scored runs.
Aptos pounded out 11 hits on what turned out to be the most important day of the league season.
Friday’s contest was a rescheduled game from earlier in the season that was postponed because of rain.
The Mariners had a tight grip on the title entering the week with an unscathed league record, but a 4-1 Tuesday loss to St. Francis High made the last two games of the regular season must-wins.
They had to rally to edge rival Soquel High, 3-2, on Thursday, and did the same on Friday to capture the championship.
“We were a little bit disappointed,” Segura said of Tuesday’s loss, “but we knew that it wasn’t going to stop us from winning this game.”
S.L.V. scored once in the opening inning and tagged Cano with four more over the next two.
In the second inning, sophomore shortstop Hailey Lang knocked in a pair with a two-run double and sophomore second baseman Alura Neill added another with an RBI single. An inning later, sophomore catcher Jami Van Eyck made it 5-0 with an RBI single.
But after the 10-run burst, the Cougars had a tough time cracking Cano and the Mariners’ speedy defense. Aptos’ ace surrendered six hits over the final four innings, but kept the scoring to a minimum.
“I was panicking a little, but once we got back in it and start hitting, I felt confident,” Cano said.
The grand slam provided the biggest boost to her mojo.
“It gave me so much energy,” Cano said. “It pumped me up and made me more hungry.”
Garcia said Friday’s home run was her third of the season in the Mariners’ home diamond, but it was without a doubt the deepest of the three.
“That was definitely a little more of a ‘big girl’ home run,” Garcia said.
She chose the perfect time to hit it.