APTOS — The Aptos Mariners are back in the second round of the Central Coast Section Playoffs after beating Harker of San Jose 3-2 on Wednesday afternoon.
They’ll face a familiar opponent today at the Salinas Sports Complex at noon, the Santa Cruz Costal Athletic League Champion Soquel Knights.
While the Mariners split the season series 1-1 with the rival Knights, there is little doubt around the team that they have what it takes to move on to the semifinal round.
“When we went into the first game against Soquel we knew we could win,” said junior catcher Casey Messersmith. “Even though we lost to them, we came into the second meeting thinking we could still win, so it doesn’t matter that we lost to them. We know we can do it.”
Messersmith has played all three of her high school years at the varsity level, and was a part of the 2011 Mariners squad that took home a piece of the league title and was ousted in the second round of the CCS Playoffs. For her, this is just another game.
“I am pumped,” said Messersmith. “I am straight up pumped. This is a big game. It’s just like ‘let’s just get to it.’”
The Mariners will likely have to face the Knights’ ace Ana Gurr who allowed just four hits, four walks and an earned run, before Aptos knocked in three runs to take the lead and the win, off of the Knight’s closer.
“It’s a team,” said Messersmith. “There is no I in team. We’re playing Soquel. We’re not playing Ana Gurr.”
However, Mariners starting pitcher Michelle Firebaugh is no slouch either. Although she gave up 11 hits against the Knights, she, and her defense, was able to strand multiple runners and only let Soquel score three runs.
“We know what kind of pitches to throw and to who,” said Firebaugh. “We know who their power hitters are and what to stay away from.”
The junior pitcher is coming off an excellent outing in the first round against Harker where she threw a complete game two-hitter.
“It went by really fast,” said Firebaugh of the win over the number 11 seed. “I think it was kind of a relief too. It was just one of those things were it was some of our girls’ first CCS experience, so now it’s like ‘our foots in the door, so it can only get better from here.’”
The Mariners finished the regular season in third place in the SCCAL behind the Knights and Scotts Valley Falcons at 9-3.
They would get a chance at redemption in the SCCAL end of season tournament when they faced the Falcons in the second round.
After leading 2-0 early in the game the Falcons stormed back and took control of the game, eventually winning 4-3 in extra innings.
But a third place finish in league, and a CCS Playoff birth is a welcomed change from last year’s underwhelming 7-17 season.
“I’m so happy with where we’ve gotten from last year to this year,” said Firebaugh. “I’m so proud of these girls, honestly. They’re like my second family, and I couldn’t be happier with the progress that we made.”
The season isn’t over yet, and the Mariners’ keys for today’s game were simple.
“Mentally you have to be in check, physically you have to be in check and emotionally you have to be in check,” said Firebaugh.
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