WATSONVILLE — After playing nearly four hours under spurts of rain and chilly winds, Aptos High senior Martina Churchill came through with the biggest hit of her softball career, so far.
Churchill cleared the bases in extra innings to help the Mariners defeat St. Francis, 10-7, in 14 innings of nail-biting action in Wednesday’s Central Coast Section Division II first round.
“I have never experienced anything like that,” Churchill said. “It definitely was a roller coaster. A lot of sadness at one point because we were thinking the season was going to be over…. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort they put in. They literally gave it their all and both teams should be proud of the effort.”
Churchill went 4-for-7 and finished with five RBIs, including the three runs that sealed the game in the top of the 14th. It was also Aptos High’s first win in the CCS playoffs since 2013 when it defeated Harker in the Division III first round.
Most of the Mariners’ players had never played in a game that long and Aptos freshman starting pitcher Ada Neu said she was still in awe after it was all over.
“It’s just kind of surreal,” she said. “I’m just really proud of this team and the will and the strive that they had to win this game.”
Neu said they weren’t about to give up and battled in each inning. She also commended St. Francis for fighting back in the game and sticking around until the end.
“They have really good players and all don’t wanna give up,” Neu said. “I’m just really proud that we could all keep our heads up and play that long and have that much focus for that amount of time.”
Neu recorded 13 strikeouts, walked six batters and allowed three runs on four hits in seven innings.
“Bottom line, we knew it was going to a tight ball game,” said Mariners coach Phil Rojas Jr. “Take your hats off to St. Francis, it could’ve went either way. They got a lot of fight, we had a lot of fight and it was just a matter of something breaking loose.”
Rojas called the game a dogfight, which featured two outstanding freshman pitchers in Ada Neu of Aptos High and Alicia Mendez of St. Francis.
“(Neu) is young, she’s only going to get better and where she’s at now, she’s got a game,” Rojas said. “Between her and Alicia (Mendez), in the next couple of years they’re going to get better. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Mendez finished with eight strikeouts, six walks and 10 runs on 10 hits in the complete game loss.
St. Francis coach Art Doten said this was still an awesome game to be apart of.
“My girls hung in there, really, really well,” Doten said. “They didn’t die and they weren’t going to. This year for us is history.”
This was the first year the Sharks had won a league title and advanced to the CCS playoffs. Doten said now the bar is set high for next year.
“Everything they’ve done this year has just been magical. It’s been a lot of fun,” Doten said.
Neu said she knew it was going to be a pitcher’s duel between her and Mendez, which meant the Mariners had to bring more than just their best game to come away with the win.
“If we didn’t, then we would get ran over,” Neu said. “But we stayed in it and kept our heads up and everyone played their best game.”
Aptos High senior Martina Churchill stops St. Francis junior Claire Cagnacci from tagging home plate during their Central Coast Section Division II playoff game on Wednesday. (Juan Reyes — Register-Pajaronian)
Rojas said there’s going to be a lot of these type of games coming up in the near future.
But Rojas said it was the group of Mariners’ seniors that includes Julia Cano, Dezarey Angulo, Vanessa Segura, Eliysia Richie, Abigail Carmona and Churchill, who were either clutch at the plate and in the outfield.
Churchill went up to bat in the top of the 14th inning with the bases loaded. She said she felt the pressure to make something happen and wanted to have a sold at-bat.
“After they walked Shea (Garcia) I was like, ‘Wow it’s all me now, no one else,’” Churchill said. “It was now you’re season is over and whole softball career is over or now you pull it out. I’m glad I can be able to continue the season with these girls.”
Churchill smacked the ball towards right center field for a base hit single and cleared the bases for three RBIs. Cano added an insurance run that made it 10-6.
However, prior to that the game was a back-and-forth battle that seemed never-ending at times. With the game tied at 1-1, the Mariners scored what seemed to be the game-winning run in the top of the seventh after Cano got a base hit RBI to make it 2-1.
But St. Francis senior Lena Ciandro got a base hit to drive in senior Maia Madrigal in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at 2-all.
Churchill got one of her five RBIs in the top of the eighth to make it 3-2, but the Sharks came back once again in the bottom half of the inning when freshman Aaliyah Gomez drove in Arianna Azevedo to tie things up again at 3-all.
It wasn’t until the 12th inning when Aptos retook the lead, 5-3, after Segura and Churchill each got a base hit RBI single.
And just when the Mariners thought it was over, St. Francis tied the game again on Azevedo’s two-run home run.
But the Sharks seemed to have run out of gas in the 14th inning after they allowed Aptos to take a four-run lead. St. Francis tried to fight back by adding a run to make it 10-7, yet, it was the Mariners who walked away victorious.
“I wanted to stay loud and keep my team up and keep everybody in that mindset that this isn’t over and we can still win this,” Neu said. “And it let us all the way through.”
Editor's Note: This article will be published in the May 17 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.