A pair of Hollister Little League teams won their respective District 9 Tournament of Champions playoffs on June 15 in Salinas. The Hollister A’s won the Majors division with a 3-2 victory over Salinas National, while the Hollister Orioles won the Minors division with a 4-3 victory over Atlantic. Both teams won in thrilling fashion, putting an exclamation point on terrific seasons.
“The (way the team won at the end and the) celebration was amazing,” said Josh Watt, the manager of the Orioles. “To see the joy in the kids’ eyes—it’s hard to capture the emotion unless you were there. It was amazing and one of the most memorable moments in our lives.”
The A’s closed their title run in dominating fashion, as Robert Holsten struck out the side to clinch the outcome.
“He was throwing flames to end the game,” A’s manager Celso Lopez Jr. said.
The A’s roster include Ami Lopez, Nathan Alves, Anthony Bolin, Ashlee Io, Alex Vaca, Andre Moreno, Julian Tabancay, Kyian Rhodabarger, Quinn Zanger, Ruben Infante, Tomas Salvador and Holsten. The coaches include Rich Alves, Abel Pasillas and Celso Lopez, Sr.
The Orioles roster include Tanner Frisco, Caden Watt, Silas Guerra, Kody Dickens, Vince Baraby, Cash Rovella, Tyler Frisco, Jayden Littlejohn, Buddy Florez, Joshua Chavez, Tyler Trites and Christopher Baraby. The coaches include Joe Frisco and Matt Chavez.
The A’s had a storybook run, as they won the District 9 TOC despite finishing second to the Cubs in regular-season league play. However, the A’s beat the Cubs in the championship game of the league playoffs, then went a perfect 5-0 to capture the TOC. The A’s went 1-3 against the Cubs in the league season.
“We started playing our best toward the end,” Lopez said. “We were playing with house money I guess.”
The A’s topped National 4-3 in the winners’ bracket semifinal and in the title contest. A seminal moment in the championship came when catcher Infante hit a home run—the first of his career—to make it 1-1 in the top of the third inning against National. It was a pivotal moment, as the team needed something to get it going.
“I’ve coached Ruben for four years now, so for me to see that was awesome,” Lopez said. “We really needed that because at the time things did not feel normal, and the kids were not in it (mentally). I talked to him before the at-bat and told him, ‘Hey man, we need you to make something happen right now because we’re playing flat and sure enough he got us a home run.”
The A’s scored their final two runs in the top of the fifth, coming off a Holsten fielder’s choice and a Vaca bases-loaded walk. Holsten pitched like an ace the entire season, Alves was a strong No. 2 starter, with Zanger and Lopez also eating up a lot of innings. Lopez Jr. said the team had plenty of motivation to win the championship game because they were missing its leadoff hitter and sparkplug, Tabancay, whose family went to the Philippines.
“His grandfather passed away last year so they went there to spread his ashes,” Lopez Jr. said. “Not having him here really hurt, but the kids really wanted to win it for him knowing he wanted to win this thing.”
The Orioles had a spectacular season, finishing 21-1-1 counting the regular season, league playoffs and the TOC. They 10-run ruled all of their opponents in the league playoffs, and outscored five TOC opponents by a combined margin of 45-5. Hollister had run roughshod over its first four opponents in the TOC only to face a stiff challenge from Atlantic in the title game.
The team trailed 3-1 entering the bottom of the sixth inning, but had plenty of life left. Watt had a feeling the players were going to do something special.
“We had the top of the lineup coming up, and I sensed they were all ready to win and take it,” Watt said.
Briscoe started the game-winning rally with a leadoff single, and he and Caden Watt scored the first two runs of the inning. Guerra eventually scored the game-winning run on a passed ball, this coming after he had stolen second and third base. The Orioles received strong pitching from Frisco and Watt, both of whom threw no-hitters during the season.
Dickens and Tyler Frisco were also huge assets on the mound, Josh Watt said. In the championship game, Dickens started and went three innings, and Tanner Frisco pitched three shutout innings of relief. Had the Orioles lost Saturday’s game, they would’ve had their ace, Watt, ready to go for the winner-take-all contest.
“I had a good game plan if it went to Sunday,” said Josh Watt, who credited coaches Chavez and Frisco for helping put the kids in a position to succeed. “But I did not want to be out there coaching on Father’s Day.”
Watt said it was an absolute pleasure coaching the team, as the players brought a certain level of joy in practices and games.
“It wasn’t difficult at all to coach this team because they were good and they meshed together,” he said. “I got real emotional when I saw those kids get fired up one last time (in the sixth inning of the championship game). When I saw that, I knew in my heart they would get it done. It was one of those moments I won’t ever forget.”