The Hollister 7/8/9 Little League All Stars have one opponent that can potentially derail their goal of winning the District 9 championship—themselves. Hollister finds itself in the catbird seat after rolling through three opponents by a combined margin of 37-3, ending each game after four innings due to the mercy rule.
“Exactly, we’ve got to keep challenging the kids to keep them sharp,” Hollister manager Ben Candelaria said. Hollister plays on Saturday at 8 a.m. at American Little League Field in Salinas and must be beaten twice to lose the tournament. “The practice we had after one of our wins, the kids were kind of goofing around. The coaches had to pull them aside and tell them they had to be serious about this and keep going. We definitely have to make sure they don’t get complacent on us. They’re having a good time because winning makes everything fun.”
The roster includes Jaiden Herrera, Sammy Canela, Iziaih Lopez, Nate Candelaria, Eli Cortez, Eligh Briscoe, Max Guardino, Nico Quezada, Dominic Cosio, Jayce Johnson, Felix Chavira and Charles Duffy. Candelaria credited assistant coaches Miguel Cortez and Jeremy Briscoe for being instrumental in helping the players in every phase of the game.
Candelaria’s son, Nate, started two of the team’s first three contests—scores were 12-1, 13-2 and 12-0—including the third game in which he threw a no-hitter, striking out 11 in four innings in a dominating performance. Along with Candelaria, Briscoe, Quezada and Herrera have been downright spectacular so far.
“The biggest strength is our pitching,” Ben said. “Those four guys are our money pitchers, and they’ve been lights out. Their pitching has been a game changer for us.”
Candelaria and Briscoe both feature effective change-ups with potent two- and four-seam fastballs. In his one start, Briscoe had nine strikeouts in a four-inning contest.
Quezada had three RBIs in the team’s last game, and Canela has been crushing the ball, delivering some big hits at crucial moments.
“He’s been one of the stars on the team for sure,” Candelaria said. “We have five kids who are 9 years old that played Triple-A and the rest played Double-A, and those two leagues are totally different as far as challenges. But the younger kids have stepped up a lot and are playing really, really well. They’ve been hanging with the big kids.”
Defensively, Cortez has been terrific at shortstop, setting the tone when the other team is at-bat. A year ago, neither Hollister team—American and National—reached the championship game. Armed with just one team this season due to a smaller enrollment of players this season, Hollister has a powerhouse unit that seems all but certain to win the championship.
Hollister will play the winner of the Hartnell-Greenfield game for the championship on Saturday, with a second game, if necessary, on Sunday. Hollister has already crushed both teams and will be a heavy favorite to win it all.