APTOS — What slump?
Gabby Giuffre and Abby Pardue shot a combined 10-of-15 from 3-point land to lead the Aptos Mariners past the Soquel Knights, 66-54, to their 22nd consecutive Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League victory on Friday night
Giuffre, a junior, scored a game-high 28 points, and Pardue, a senior, added 14 points. Their hot shooting nights came at the right time, as the defending SCCAL champion Mariners (12-4, 3-0) were locked in a battle with the rival Knights (9-8, 2-1) through three quarters.
Aptos led 48-42 heading into the final stanza, but pulled away with a 16-4 run at the start of the fourth.
“I expected them to battle no matter how much talent we got,” said Giuffre, who celebrated her 17th birthday the day before. “They’ve got a strong team, and they’re going to drop dead before they let us blow them out.”
Though the Mariners entered having won five of their last six, both Giuffre and Pardue had struggled with their shot since the start of the new year.
That wasn’t the case on Friday.
Both players knocked down an early 3-pointer, and the ball continued to find the bottom of the net the rest of the night. Each hit a pair of clutch shots during the team’s game-sealing run en route to their respective season-high point totals.
Giuffre and Pardue’s brilliance from beyond the arc also offset Hannah Hocom’s uncharacteristic night and Natalia Ackerman’s foul trouble. Hocom, last year’s SCCAL M.V.P., scored just two points, and Ackerman, who leads the team in points (14.4), rebounds (9.4), assists (2.4), steals (3.3) and blocks (1.7) per game, picked up two early fouls and spent the better half of the game on the bench.
“If one of our biggest scorers isn’t having the best game, then I have to step up,” Pardue said. “When one of them isn’t scoring, all of us need to step up, and if we don’t, it’s really hard for us to win…Gabby and I stepped up, and it just gave us that little extra that we needed to win.”
Without Ackerman’s 6-foot-1 frame and albatross-like wingspan in the paint, Soquel picked apart the Mariners’ interior defense with drives from McKenzie Duran-Gonzalez and Rene Parker, whom combined for 31 points.
Soquel, the SCCAL runner-up a season ago and the league champ the year before, cut what was a 15-point lead to two late in the third quarter on a McKenna Finch layup. But Aptos hit a couple of quick buckets in the closing moments of the frame, and put the game away through the first four minutes of the fourth.
“I was very pleased with how we stayed poised,” said Aptos first-year head coach Chris Grieves. “They’re going to make a run at some point, and you can’t let the emotions of the game get you up and down mentally. I think we did a really good job fighting through that.”
Over the next two weeks, the Mariners, ranked 81st in the state by MaxPreps, will see the level of their competition drop off a bit until they travel to Soquel on Jan. 25. Grieves said the team can’t get complacent over its next five games, or its title defense could be a little bumpier than expected.
Giuffre doesn’t see that happening.
“It’s all about practice, going hard and being competitive in practice, that’s really going to be the big difference,” Giuffre said. “Yeah, we have to take every opponent as a test, and make sure we trust our stuff. But, really, practice is going to be where we get better until the next time we see (Soquel).”