GILROY — Aptos only lost twice over its 20-game schedule.
Both losses carried a season’s worth of heartbreak.
The first loss denied the Mariners their sixth straight Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League title, and the second halted their progress toward the program’s first section final berth since 2001.
The second ended their season, too.
No. 7 Aptos was eliminated from the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs in the semifinal round by No. 3 Christopher in a penalty kick shootout on Wednesday evening.
Aptos, ranked 58th in the state by MaxPreps, finishes its season with a 13-1-6 overall record — the loss is officially scored as a tie. It also ends its year without a championship banner for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
“It definitely hurts,” said Aptos first-year coach Jordyn Ryfiak. “It’s more frustrating than anything…It’s weird. Mixed emotions because we still have plenty to be proud of even if we don’t have the banners to show for it.”
Christopher (12-4-2), the champion of the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan division, already had one banner in its back pocket, and will play for another on Saturday.
The Cougars will meet No. 4 Menlo — a 2-0 winner over top-seeded Soquel — at a site and time still to be determined.
It will be the program’s first-ever CCS final appearance.
“Everyone’s super excited,” said Christopher sophomore goalkeeper Jordan Anaya. “I was shaking the entire time. In the goal and after.”
Anaya’s nerves were tough to see from afar. The Cougars’ keeper was solid throughout the 80 minutes of regulation, the two 10-minute overtimes and the nail-biting shootout. She made eight saves on the field, and also made a pair of diving rejections on the third and final PKs to help Christopher win, 3-2.
“The last girl came up and she made really deep eye contact with me,” Anaya said. “That’s all part of being a goalie. You kind of have to get in their head a little bit.”
Mind games aside, Christopher did well to shut down the Mariners’ multi-headed attack for most of the evening. Aptos dominated the possession, but was hounded by Christopher’s physical midfielders and defenders whenever it tried to filter its offense through the center of the field.
Still, Aptos outshot Christopher 8-3 while probing off the wing on long runs. Freshman Jazmin Castaneda — the team’s leading scorer with 11 goals — had the best looks, but her three shots on goal from the right wing ended up in Anaya’s belly.
“We didn’t quite finish on the opportunities that we had,” Ryfiak said. “[Christopher] had some scary moments going forward in our half, but, overall, we handled it pretty well defensively.”
Which only added to the Mariners’ frustrations.
Aptos’s senior-heavy defense put the squeeze on a potent Christopher attack that, thanks to senior forward Aurea Martin’s 18 goals, was averaging 2 1/2 goals per game.
Martin, who will play NCAA Division I soccer at Northwestern next year, gutted through a hamstring injury, and helped produce all three of the Cougars’ scoring opportunities. Her third shot, a header off a corner kick in the 72nd, clanked off the top right corner of the Mariners’ goal and drew several loud gasps from the dozens bundled up on Christopher High’s metallic stands.
The Cougars, winners of their last 11, were shut out for the first time since Dec. 8.
“It’s frustrating because I felt like we should’ve won on the field,” said Aptos sophomore defender Chantal Aguirre. “We should’ve had this game…It’s frustrating to get a shut out, and have to go to PKs.”
Aptos was unbeaten through its first 16 games before it suffered its first setback of the season, a 2-0 loss to Soquel. The defeat proved fatal, as the Knights edged the Mariners for the SCCAL crown by three points.
The loss also sent the Mariners tumbling down the CCS seeding. Soquel earned the top seed in Division I, and the home-field advantage that comes with it. The Mariners, who did not lose at home this season, had to hit the road in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.
“Sometimes things just don’t go your way,” Ryfiak said. “That’s soccer.”
In the minutes following the defeat, the Mariners’ young core was already talking about next season. Aptos will return three of its four leading scorers — Castaneda, junior Brynn Mitchell and sophomore Gisselle Vasquez — along with 10 other players. But it will lose five big seniors: Jasmine Taylor, Caroline Miller, Bella McDaniel, Haley Veldhuis and Olivia Meier, who will play D-I soccer at Binghamton next year.
All five started on Wednesday.
“It kind of made the seniors a little sad because they were like, ‘I don’t have a next year,’” Ryfiak said. “All the underclassmen were like, ‘next year we got it. Next year, we’re going to win league again.’ I have the confidence in them, too. We’re losing some pretty key players in our seniors, but we have some underclassmen that are going to step up into those roles.”