Hollister senior Johnny Casares delivers a pitch against the Monarchs on May 21. Photo: Jonathan Natividad

After the Covid years and a bit of a dry spell, the Hollister Haybalers softball program is back with the elite of the Central Coast Section, Northern California and the entire state of California. 

The last two years have positioned coach Andrew Barragan’s program at the big table, with a 52-8 record, two league championships, a CCS title and a NorCal title. It is noteworthy that the big wins—and even the tight losses—are against the top competition. 

And notably, there have been no losses to mediocre teams; Hollister never overlooks someone or has a poor game.

The 2024 team finished 22-5 and their 13-1 record won the Pacific Coast Athletic League, Gabilan Division title for the second consecutive year. In post-season play this spring, the Balers beat Gilroy 3-0 in a CCS Open Division opener and then lost 6-0 in the semifinals to Archbishop Mitty. 

In NorCals, the defending champ Balers lost an extra-inning thriller 4-2 to finalist Oak Ridge.

“We were back-to-back league champs,” coach Andrew Barragan said. “The NorCals is bonus softball. And we never let one loss define our season. It’s hard to win a championship. It’s hard to stay on top. I’m proud these girls battled all the way.”

2024 Balers

Haybaler success in 2024 came primarily from a combination of four factors, two on each side. On the defensive side, the Balers featured stellar pitching from Johnny Casares paired with an athletic watertight defense. On the offensive side, Hollister won with speed on the bases, including both steals and taking the extra base, along with strong hitting.

Casares fashioned a 19-5 record, with a 2.37 ERA. 

Speed came from everywhere, led by Maddy Bermudez with 17 steals, Mia Phillips with 16 and Grace Peffley with 15. 

At the plate, Phillips had 46 hits in 84 at-bats for an amazing .548 batting average. She knocked in 44 runs to lead the Balers and had four homers and four triples, also team highs. Peffley hit 36-for-86 for a .419 mark and Dom Oliveira hit 24-for-65 for a .369 average with four triples.

Phillips was named the PCAL Gabilan Division MVP. First Team All-League honors went to Phillips, Bermudez and Oliveira. Second Team accolades went to Peffley and Casares.

Big wins this season included a crucial 6-2 triumph over Monterey to nail in the league title and two victories over Salinas. The Balers also beat the Blossom Valley Athletic League, Mt. Hamilton Division’s best. They defeated both co-champs, topping Gilroy 3-0 and Willow Glen 6-5. 

Outside the CCS, Hollister defeated SJS Division I champ Clovis North 4-0, SJS Division I runner-up Central 2-1 and CS Division II champ St. Joseph’s 5-3.


The last weeks of the season featured several big battles. After closing league play with wins over Monterey, Salinas and Stevenson, Hollister entered CCS Open Division action. 

In the quarterfinal against Gilroy, Casares tossed a three-hit shutout for a 3-0 win and the defense sparkled with two double plays. 

The senior hurler closed the contest by retiring 16 of the last 17 Mustang batters faced.

The Balers jumped on top with two runs in the third inning. Ashley Io and Avery Chavez had singles and Chavez illustrated Hollister’s speed game by scoring from second on a groundout. In the fifth, Io singled and Bermudez doubled up the left center field gap for an insurance run.

“Johnny had a good rise ball,” Bermudez said. “She was pitching them outside. We’re good when Johnny does her thing and we back her up.”

Catcher Oliveira is a key part of the Hollister defense. Her strong arm keeps opponents from running on the Balers. Stolen bases can be quite an offensive force in softball and prevention is key.

“Johnny was on her ‘A’ game,” Oliveira said. “She was hitting the corners. The defense had to lock down today.”

The CCS semifinal was at the Salinas Sports Complex. Mitty jumped on top. The Balers had rallies in the fourth and sixth innings but could not break through. Bermudez had two singles and was on base all three plate appearances, but the rest of the offense was off track.

“Today we didn’t really play our ‘A’ game,” Phillips said. “Mitty came out ready to play and our bats weren’t hot.”

After a week’s break, the Balers were back on the diamond. The first NorCal opponent was the red-hot SJS champion Oak Ridge Trojans, a team the Balers defeated 2-0 in NorCal play a year ago.

The Trojans scored two in the top of the first and the Balers replied with two in the bottom half of the frame. A Casares walk began the response, with a Phillips triple to the left center field gap as the big play. Phillips tied the contest 2-2 when she scored on a wild pitch.

Each team came up empty during the next nine innings. Oak Ridge had the better chances, with Casares and the defense stifling rallies in the second, fourth and fifth to keep the game tied. Finally, Oak Ridge broke through with two runs in the eleventh inning.

“It obviously wasn’t the outcome we wanted,” Bermudez said. “It was a great battle, a great fight. Johnny pitched a great game. We went down fighting. I had a great season with these girls; they’re like my sisters.”

The Balers were one key hit away from victory. A win would have propelled them to the NorCal final against Amador Valley (due to the Whitney semifinal forfeit). A hard loss to swallow, but the overall accomplishments of the last two seasons were not diminished.

“I thought we did pretty good,” second baseman Emma Gutierrez said. “Our defense was solid all year around. They got a couple key hits and our hitting could have been better. I’ve been on the team for four years; I grew up with these girls and coaches. These girls are my family.”

The family lives on, even with seniors graduating. Phillips (Cal), Oliveira (SMC), Bermudez (Cal Poly) and Gutierrez (LMU) will play at NCAA D1 schools, while some Balers will play at other levels and underclassmen return. The last two years have put Hollister’s name at the top of the elite, with great overall records and playoff successes.

Hollister senior Emma Gutierrez sprints down the line to first base against Archbishop Mitty on May 21. Photo: Jonathan Natividad

Balers stand tall against competition

Over the last two years, Hollister has a section title, a NorCal title, a section third place and a NorCal fifth place. All in the highest levels of section (Open Division) and NorCal (Division 1) competition. St. Francis comes close to matching that and other CCS schools and those from other sections are a fair amount behind in playoff success and overall records.

The Lancers have one crown and a 56-5 record but Hollister won the only two head-to-head playoff contests. Mitty has no titles, is 44-10 and split two games with the Balers.

Outside the CCS, Oak Ridge has two San Joaquin Section titles, with a 41-14 record and a split of two head-to-head playoff games against Hollister. Whitney has a SJS Division II title, a 44-12 record and a playoff loss to the Balers. In the Central Section, Clovis North has one section title, a 46-10-1 record and a home regular season 4-0 loss to Hollister this year. Central has one section title, a 47-14-1 record and a 2-1 defeat to the Balers this year.

In the North Coast Section, Amador Valley has a section title and a NorCal title but just a 34-23 overall record.

Also, although St. Francis and Mitty reached the CCS final this May, Hollister had a better performance in NorCal play than their two rivals. Hollister lost in 11 innings to SJS titleist and NorCal finalist Oak Ridge. Conversely, St. Francis lost 4-1 to Amador Valley, which entered the game at just 16-11. Mitty lost 2-0 to SJS runner-up Whitney.

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