Girls NorCal Basketball: Aptos bounced by Clovis in quarterfinals

APTOS — Blocked shots, pickpocket steals, 3-pointers and smart passes.

For a quarter, Aptos High looked like it was back to the dominant play that produced the program’s first outright Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League title since 1982.

If only for a quarter.

The No. 2 Mariners had their stellar season come to an abrupt halt in the quarterfinals of the NorCal Division III playoffs via a 59-47 loss to No. 7 Clovis High on Saturday.

Aptos jumped out to a double-digit lead with a 20-point first quarter, but never recaptured the same pace or aggressiveness over the final three frames.

The heartbreaking loss drops Aptos to 26-5 overall — the same record the Mariners tallied last season.

When asked if the year was a success, head coach Stefan Hocom’s answer was simple.

“How could it not be?” the coach asked. “If having only five losses is not a successful season, then we’re just screwed up as a society.”

Aptos shot just 36 percent from the field, and was outscored 20-9 in the fourth quarter.

Twenty-seven turnovers, 19 coming over the second and third quarters, didn’t help either.

“Our plan is always to run the court and we’ve struggled with that this entire playoff run,” Hocom said. “Having said that, we’ve found a way to win with our defense and by just being gritty.”

Not against upset-minded Clovis (21-12), which will advance to play at No. 3 Christian Brothers — the highest remaining seed in D-III — on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the semifinals.

“We got a little too excited to start the game,” said Clovis head coach Greg Clark. “We’re on the road, big game… We made some silly mistakes early. It was just about calming down and getting back into the game.”

Saturday’s loss was a microcosm of the Mariners’ year.

They stormed through their preseason and SCCAL schedules, but ran out of gas in the Central Coast Section championship and never quite found the same oomph they had during their 12-0 run through league.

Injuries piled up and the flu ravaged the team over the last two weeks, too.

“We still made a good run of it,” said Hocom, who explained his team had not had its starting five practice together since the beginning of the playoffs.

Aptos sophomore forward Natalia Ackerman poured in a team-high 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting and also had nine boards, seven steals and three blocks. Junior guard Hannah Hocom chipped in 10 points and played tight defense atop the Mariners’ press.

Both ran into foul trouble early in the second quarter and had to take a seat. Aptos struggled to find a rhythm offensively with its two stars on the pine, and Clovis took full advantage of their absence by ripping off a 13-0 run over the final six minutes of the first half.

“They had to sit down and that helped us get back in the game,” Clark said.

Aptos went into the break with a 28-27 lead on a pair of free throws from senior forward Abbi Saxton, but the Mariners couldn’t stop giving the ball away in the third and didn’t make enough shots in the fourth.

“We weren’t playing as aggressive,” said Hannah Hocom. “We were playing a lot more careful, and I think that’s where the deficit started to happen.”

Despite committing 10 turnovers in the third, Aptos only trailed 39-38 heading into the final stanza. But Clovis senior wing Taylor Correa nailed a pair of 3s in the opening minutes of the fourth to stymie the Mariners’ comeback efforts.

She finished with 22 points and sophomore Avery Evans scored a game-high 24 points, including the dagger 3-pointer that put the Cougars up 13 with 2:02 remaining.

“At the end of the day, we have what we do, they have what they do and the breaks just kind of went their way,” coach Hocom said. “We couldn’t really do what we do.”

That was without a doubt a product of the Cougars’ pressing defense, which Aptos never cracked during the second and third quarters. Much to the dismay of the hundreds of spirited home fans in attendance, passes sailed out of bounds, or into the hands of an awaiting Clovis defender time and again during the middle periods.

“It unnecessarily sped us up,” Hannah Hocom said. “We practiced press break a lot, and I think we were just speeding up more than we needed to.”

Aptos will graduate only player from its roster of 11, but Saxton, who surpassed 1,000 rebounds for her high school career this season, will be a big piece to lose.

Several things can change over the course of the offseason, but the Mariners were heading into the spring with a chipper attitude looking ahead to next season.

“Saxton, obviously, is going to be a big loss, she’s been my hero since I was little,” Hocom said, “but I’m really confident in our talent coming back.”

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