SOQUEL — After winning its first league title since 2011 last spring, the Aptos softball team entered this year's Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League season with a gigantic target on its back.
So far, the Mariners have been bulletproof.
Aptos scored eight runs over the final two innings of Tuesday’s SCCAL showdown to rally past the rival Soquel Knights, 13-7, and remain unbeaten in league action.
With the win, the defending SCCAL champions improved to 6-3 overall and 4-0 in SCCAL play heading into Thursday’s rematch with San Lorenzo Valley, the runner-up in the league last season that nearly knocked off Aptos in a 1-0 loss to open this year.
It is arguably the Mariners’ toughest week of the SCCAL season so far. Aptos coach Phil Rojas said the degree of difficulty will only continue to rise — the pressure, too — as the team’s league win streak builds.
“We have to give 100 percent effort to win a game because everyone is gunning to beat us,” Rojas said. “That’s what happens when you win. It’s a good thing.”
It brought out their best on Tuesday.
Aptos led 2-0 early and 5-2 after three innings, but Soquel (2-4-1, 1-2) erased both deficits and grabbed a one-run lead on Sunshyne Brechler’s solo shot in the fifth.
But Aptos senior third baseman Vanessa Segura sparked a two-out rally in the sixth by legging out a single. Junior shortstop Shea Garcia followed Segura by earning one of her four walks on the day, and senior catcher Martina Churchill smashed a go-ahead, two-run single.
The Mariners scored two more runs before inning’s end, and added four more in the seventh, including another off of Churchill’s bat.
“This is one of the games we really wanted to win,” Churchill said. “We know people on that team, and there’s the city rivalry… We weren’t going to go out without a fight.”
Aptos freshman pitcher Ada Neu got in some trouble during the early innings, but settled in after her offense built some cushion late. She finished with 13 strikeouts, and got some help from a handful of heads up defensive plays, including an impressive running snag in foul territory from Segura.
“This game was definitely a challenge for me because I’ve grown up with half the girls on [Soquel],” Neu said. “I had to keep my composure and be focused — not let it get in my head. I had to pitch it like it’s any other game.”
Thursday at 4 p.m. >> Aptos (6-3, 4-0) vs. S.L.V. (4-5-1, 2-1)