WATSONVILLE — Pajaro Valley head coach Jamie Tsuji was ready to let tears stream down her face after Tuesday night’s Central Coast Section playoff match against Aptos High.
Tears of joy, that is.
Playing in only their second-ever CCS playoff game, Tsuji’s Grizzlies gutted out their best game of the season and possibly the best showing any team in the program’s history has ever put forth. Still, it was not enough for No. 12 Pajaro Valley to pull the upset against No. 5 Aptos in the first round of the CCS Division II playoffs at home. The Grizzlies took the Mariners to the limits but ultimately fell 25-14, 25-17, 20-25, 26-28, 15-10, allowing visiting Aptos to advance to the CCS quarterfinal round for the fourth straight season.
It was a loss but the Grizzlies (20-11), who earned the home-court advantage by winning their first-ever league championship on Thursday, all had gigantic smiles on their faces after, knowing they had just come a handful of points from upsetting one of the premier programs in the CCS.
“Very proud. Beyond proud, actually,” Tsuji said. “Not just that they won the sets but that they lost two and that they were able to come back from that. There was times on the court where they were upset with each other but they were able to pull themselves out of that. Just all around, it was a joy to watch them play tonight. There’s just so many holes usually but tonight all of them were on the same page.”
Aptos (20-6) head coach Jacob Landel was the exact opposite on the other side of the court, shaking his head after several points as his normally dominant Mariners struggled to limit their mistakes and let the Grizzlies hang around.
“They think they’re going to walk through everyone right now,” Landel said of his Mariners, who have proven they can beat the best the CCS D-II bracket has to offer with wins over top-seeded Pacific Collegiate School and No. 4 Carmel High on their resume. “That’s the type of mentality they had when they walked into this gym.”
And it’s a mentality that Landel guaranteed his group would not have when it travels to play Carmel — the undefeated Monterey Bay League Gabilan division champion — on Thursday at 7 p.m.
“Oh, they’re going to fix it,” Landel said. “They’re going to fix it.”
A little doubt might have even started to creep into the Aptos faithful that made the short drive to Watsonville in the early points of the deciding fifth set. Several Mariners’ supporters had their arms crossed or their hands tensely pressed against their noggins as Pajaro Valley tied it up at 6-all with a kill from senior outside hitter Rafael Betancourt. But Aptos was able to pull away thanks to some opportunistic offense and a few Pajaro Valley errors down the stretch.
“Right now we’re like in shock still,” said Pajaro Valley junior outside hitter Geovanny Barajas. “We can’t believe it that we didn’t just give a match to Aptos but almost beat them. We knew we were…