Hollister High senior Bailey Cotter celebrates after making a key 3-pointer in the second half during a Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division game against Salinas High on Jan. 23. (Jonathan Natividad/Hollister Free Lance).

In showdowns for the league lead over the last week, the Hollister High girls’ basketball team notched a pair of big-time victories to take sole possession of first place at the loop’s midpoint.

The Haybalers defeated Alisal High, 59-58, with a magical comeback on Jan. 19 and ran away from Salinas High, 54-37, on Jan. 23.   

Hollister (13-4) is currently on a nine-game win streak and is now 8-0 in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division play, moving one game ahead of the Trojans and two over the Cowboys in the league standings. 

But neither win was easy, especially the barnburner against Alisal.

“We were down 15 and we didn’t make adjustments; we just started making plays,” Hollister coach Mitch Burley said. “It’s satisfying for sure to win. We had to show well and we did. Everyone has an epic moment. Bailey had it with that 3-[pointer] to match them. You feel alive. To make it when you need to.”

Before a packed home gym of 800 raucous fans on an electric evening on Jan. 19, Hollister overcame deficits of 15 points early in the third quarter and three points in the final 30 seconds to send the game into overtime. 

In the final minute of regulation, Alisal’s Lesly Rodriguez broke a tie with a left-wing 3-pointer but Baler star Bailey Cotter quickly answered with an identical triple. 

In the extra period, Cotter and Madelyn Davis each scored two points and a strong defensive effort with block-out rebounding keyed the win. 

“Honestly, we did what we do,” said Cotter about the second-half rally. “We were just way more aggressive. At the end, I’m not a big 3-point shooter but I was like, ‘It’s time to do this’.”

Cotter scored 19 to lead Hollister, while fellow teammates Claire Gho added 13 points and Davis contributed nine. 

Hollister showed depth with Emery Sperling scoring six while Miranda Martinez had five, Jasayla Mariscal finished with three points, and Tatiana Marquez and Daniela Orsetti each notched two points. 

The Trojans were paced by Rodriguez with 32 points, 14 steals and 13 rebounds, and Nayeli Gil-Silva with 16 points.

Earlier on Winter Homecoming on Jan. 19 with a classy halftime ceremony, the outcome appeared dire. 

Alisal closed the first half with a 13-2 run and opened the second with a 9-2 surge to lead 38-23. Rodriguez scored 13 of those 22. 

But after a timeout at the 5:50 mark of the third quarter, the tables turned. Cotter and Gho each scored six points as the Balers narrowed the deficit to 43-39 entering the final stanza. 

During a frenetic and wild race to the finish, Davis sank a layup and a runner while Rodriguez and Gil-Silva paced the visitors. 

Rodriguez’s last-minute bomb appeared to be the clincher for the Trojans but Cotter drilled her trey ten seconds later to tie the tally at 55-all.

The Haybalers’  defense shined in the overtime period, holding Alisal to 1-for-12 on shot attempts and just three points in the four-minute extra session. 

It was particularly fierce in the final 39 seconds as Alisal had three shots but could not connect. The final try, a contested buzzer jumper by Gil-Silva, hit the back rim and bounced off. 

The Baler bench and fans rushed the court to meet the other five players in a huge celebration.

“In the locker room at halftime, we said we’re not going to lose this one,” Gho said. “In the second half, we pulled through. We’re a second half team. It feels great. Tonight was so much energy with the crowd.”

In their match against Salinas, the Balers jumped ahead early by a 14-5 count. 

However, the Cowboys fought back late in the second quarter and early in the third to close within 25-24. 

Hollister replied by rocking a 14-2 roll, featuring two hoops each from Davis, Sparling and Marquez.

“We needed to start making shots,” Marquez said. “We needed to be smarter with our passes.”

Depth and balance really showed through as Cotter and Mariscal each had 10 points, Marquez contributed nine, and Davis, Sperling and Gho each had eight points. 

Not to be overlooked was a passel of assists—several by Cotter—including interior ball movement that led to layups and fast perimeter passing to produce open looks.

“We didn’t have the energy at the start,” Mariscal said. “We needed to push harder, get back on defense more. It was Bailey [Cotter] who talked with us. She made us boost our energy. It’s a different environment on the road. We know we had to play hard.”

Salinas was led by Jennifer Rivera with 11 points, Alice Uchida finished with seven and Payton Edwards and Alissa Escutia each notched six points. 

Rivera, Edwards and Angelina Garcia provided a strong inside force for Salinas. But Cotter, Orsetti, Davis and Gho battled them on the boards, especially in the second half.

During the decisive 15-2 third-quarter run, Hollister ramped up the defense and held Salinas to 1-for-10 shooting and forced four turnovers. A team effort contained Uchida, who was coming off an 18-point effort against North Salinas but knocked down just three buckets against Hollister. 

Mariscal had the primary defensive duties against her on a night when the junior Baler contributed two spectacular highlight-reel plays. 

On a huge block of an Andrea Nava shot, Mariscal looked like former WNBA legend Lisa Leslie in forcefully swatting the ball away. Later in the game, defending the talented Uchida, she made a pickpocket steal and raced off for an easy breakaway layup.

No one will catch Mariscal when she’s going coast to coast. The Baler guard won the PCAL Gabilan Division 800 meters race last spring and finished seventh in the CCS finals, while also running the anchor leg at CCS on the 7th place 4×400 relay team.

Burley said Salinas proved to be one of the top teams in the league that has a group of good players with some size, which hurt the Balers by allowing inside baskets. 

Hollister’s coach switched the defense to man-to-man and the players responded, especially Mariscal. 

“Jasayla [Mariscal] came through on defense,” Burley said. “She is an amazing athlete and she may go NCAA [Division I] in track. She’s really fast. She has athletic ability that is unique. And as a team, we wore them down.”

The Balers kept their perfect Gabilan Division record intact with a 62-44 win over Alvarez on Jan. 25. 

League action for Hollister continues next week with a home game against Monterey on Jan. 29 and at Pacific Grove on Jan. 31. Both games are slated for a 7pm tipoff.  

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