APTOS — A 16-4 season-opening win over Santa Cruz High on Thursday was a nice start for the Aptos High Mariners. Tuesday night’s 8-4 win over Christopher High was a reassurance that victory was not a fluke.
Despite playing with only one sub, the Mariners outlasted the Cougars at home to improve to 2-0 overall and in Monterey Bay League Gabilan division play.
Aptos trailed 2-0 after the first quarter and 3-2 at the half but found another gear following the intermission, and outscored Christopher (2-1, 2-1) 4-0 in the third to take control of the contest.
The Mariners never looked back.
“We really got psyched up for the second half of the game,” said Aptos junior Kelly Taylor. “Our coach gave us some good plays, our defense really picked it up and the offense spread out evenly. We all worked together better than we did in the first half.”
She added: “We were all just really pumped up and ready to win the game.”
Taylor scored a pair of goals, including the final dagger which put the Mariners up by four with a little less than two minutes to play.
Aptos junior Kristen Malone also scored twice and tied it up at 3-3 early in the second quarter from point-blank range thanks to a perfect pass from fellow junior Jordan Wagner.
Malone’s transition score was a sign of things to come, as the Mariners dominated the third quarter with their shutdown defense and lightning-quick counter attacks.
Wagner served up a trio of assists during the third, Taylor also dished out a dime and senior Skylar Poulos scored three goals to give Aptos a 6-3 lead heading into the final stanza.
“They were countering on us and we knew if we got back quick enough and started countering and looked for those passes we’d score a lot more goals,” Poulos said.
Poulos’ first goal with 2:40 left to play in the first half brought the Mariners within one at the break. It was a bright spot in an otherwise inauspicious start for normally steady Aptos.
A handful of close-range shots clanked off the pipes and several of their passes were off the mark during the first two quarters. But senior goalie Kaylee Pryor kept her team afloat with several saves.
Pryor finished with eight rejections overall, two of which were critical one-on-one stops during the fourth quarter which allowed the Mariners to pull away.
“This is not only a great win — a great comeback — but this is also a great lesson we can use for the rest of the season,” said Aptos fourth-year head coach Mark Knapp. “We know we’re going to be in those types of situations again. We can think back to this early-season win. It’s a great win for our girls.”
The 2-0 start is the Mariners’ first since 2013 and has their collective confidence at an all-time high as they head into the meat of what should be a competitive MBL-G season. Second-place finishers last season, the Mariners could once again be in the running to collect one of the league’s three automatic Central Coast Section playoff berths.
Santa Cruz High, San Lorenzo Valley High, Carmel High, Salinas High and Christopher will all be standing in the way of what would be the program’s third straight section playoff appearance.
Of course, all six teams will be gunning for five-time reigning champ Soquel High, which has not lost a league contest since 2012 and last year advanced to the CCS Division II championship game.
This year’s group of Mariners is a mix of youth and experience. Aptos has five seniors, three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman. Although Malone, Taylor and Wagner are only juniors, they are not out of their element after seeing plenty of action as sophomores with last year’s squad, which featured six seniors, including top scorer and passer Kiegan Lee and starting goalie Desiree Guzman.
Even with limited numbers, Knapp does not see why his team can’t find its way back to the playoffs and, he hopes, make some noise when it gets there.
“Our ultimate goal is to qualify for the CCS championships,” the coach said. “As long as we all are in on this together, that will come about and maybe some better things, too. Maybe we do really well in CCS? But that’s down the road. We’re two games into the season.”
Aptos welcomes in Salinas on Thursday at 5 p.m. before hosting its annual tournament on Saturday.