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June 15, 2024

Girls basketball: Mariners’ defense suffocates Knights in SCCAL tourney final

APTOS–The Aptos High girls’ basketball team was a heavy favorite going into Friday night’s Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League Tournament championship against Soquel High.

Guard Gabby Giuffre made that clear from the start, scoring the game’s first eight points to help the Mariners cruise past the Knights, 56-19, at Cabrillo College.

She finished with a game-high 23 points, making 10 of her 15 shots from long-range, including back-to-back 3-pointers that helped Aptos jump out to an 18-3 lead.

“I came in ready to focus, the team was focused, we were ready to go,” said Giuffre. “And my team found me and I was ready.”

Forward Natalia Ackerman finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds—her 15th double-double this season—for the Mariners (19-5, 10-0). 

The 6-foot-1 senior along with the rest of her Aptos teammates posed for photos with their two newest banners for winning the SCCAL regular season and tournament titles.

“Super excited,” Ackerman said. “It was one of major goals this season and we just got it done tonight.”

The Knights (9-9, 6-4) couldn’t figure out a way to produce on offense against a tough defensive effort by the Mariners.

Aptos coach Bruce Funk said they’ve been working really hard on defense in practice throughout the year. That included improving their man-to-man defense. 

“But we have three different types of zone defenses, with traps, and they’re able to go from one to another. We’ve been working on that all year,” Funk said.

The Mariners suffocated the Knights’ offense which went 0-for-6 to start. Aptos took a commanding 35-9 lead going into halftime. 

Giuffre and company kept the pedal to the metal in the third quarter. They extended the lead to as many as 40 points. 

The third quarter ended with Giuffre connecting with Ackerman for a layup. 

The Mariners’ stars pointed at each other, acknowledging the perfect pass for the score before taking a seat on the bench for the remainder of the game.

Ackerman said the win will help build confidence before heading into the Central Coast Section playoffs, which begins Friday.

“We just gotta keep going,” she said.

Giuffre said she’s aware they’ve been at the top of the standings for the last couple of years but the big goal was to go undefeated in league play.

“We came in the gym, got ready to play and have our mind right before the games we can do it and it was possible,” she said. “It was just a matter of being ready and being there.”

Guard Emma Stefanini added eight points and five rebounds for the Mariners, who await for the CCS seeding meeting to find out where they’ll be placed in the postseason.

They’re on the hunt for a third CCS title and their fourth straight berth to the NorCal playoffs. 

Aptos is ranked No. 112 in the state by MaxPreps and Funk said there’s been some pressure because the expectations were high prior to the season.

“They kept their end of the bargain, they’ve worked hard,” Funk said. “We’re excited to go to CCS. Wherever they place us, we’re just going to come out and play.” 

Giuffre said the rankings mean nothing. 

“We got to go to CCS and prove ourselves every time we step out on that court,” she said.

Juan Reyes
Juan Reyes
A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.

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