Hollister High was put to a preseason test against a tall and talented Milpitas High group last week.
The Haybalers trailed from the start but rocked Mattson Gym by erasing a 13-point third-quarter deficit to briefly take a one-point lead with five minutes to play.
However, the Trojans came back to regain the lead and escape with a 60-51 victory over Hollister in non-league action Dec. 19.
“We dug ourselves a huge hole, but I am super proud of our guys for the grit we showed,” Hollister head coach David Kaplansky said. “You can’t teach that. We didn’t quite see that fight in our other losses, to Pioneer and to Aptos. Milpitas is longer and athletic and they’re well-coached. We had to match their intensity.”
With the loss, the Balers drop to a 6-3 overall record on the season but they continue to make great strides as they look ahead to a challenging league season.
Highlights of last week’s game included fighting back from a deficit against a powerful opponent, looking for and taking offensive opportunities and excelling at the Hollister hallmark of gritty, tough defense.
Chase Conley led the Balers with 25 points, including seven 3-pointers, and Chandler Crutcher added 13 points. The Trojans were paced by their tall trio of Jacob Wrencher with 19 points, Lamont Davis with 15 points, and Isaac Sisay with 13.
Milpitas jumped ahead 8-0, as the Balers misfired on their first 10 shots through the game’s initial six minutes.
Hollister regrouped and found offensive rhythm behind the long-range bombs of Conley and two-way play from Harold Lusk, Jayson Garcia and Crutcher. Yet, they still trailed 39-26 in the middle of the third quarter.
At that point, Conley drained three of his triples, along with another bucket, while Lusk, Brody Cotter and Crutcher also scored in a 20-6 charge that shot the Balers into a 46-45 lead.
The crowd was roaring and the atmosphere was electric. But Milpitas’ Davis scored three hoops down the stretch as the Trojans rallied for the win.
Kaplansky drove the comeback by tweaking the offensive setup so that his players could get open looks, and encouraging them to aggressively take the shots. Conley, a senior co-captain, led the perimeter attack, with Cotter and Crutcher also connecting from outside.
“It’s a fun offense to play in,” Conley said. “It sets you up for open shots. You get confidence and it’s easy to get in a rhythm. That was awesome to take the lead. You could really feel the energy of the gym coming alive.”
Conley and Crutcher led the offense. Lusk battled inside for rebounds and defense against taller opponents, with Nelson Moreta and Isaac Nordstrom providing depth.
Garcia posted up and moved the ball on offense, along with his intense defense. Savion Loza, Tyler Calayag and Elyon Pascua contributed at both ends.
Defense is the cornerstone of the Balers, who allowed an average of just 39.8 points per game in their six victories.
The rally against Milpitas included holding the Trojans to 2-for-11 shooting and three turnovers during an eight-minute span.
“It all starts with practice,” Conley said. “Coach has us well prepared. The way we compete with effort. The defensive strategy—coach has taught us since day one. We play with a lot of effort.”
Victories have come against Pajaro Valley, Rancho San Juan, Stevenson, Sobrato, Gilroy and Scotts Valley.
Hollister made it to the championship of the Alisal Invitational and went 2-1 in the Bob Hagen Memorial Tournament at Gilroy High School.
The ultra-competitive Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division contests begin on Jan. 3 with a trip to Everett Alvarez.
Last year, the Balers finished 11-12 overall and 4-8 in league play. They also reached the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs.
“I’m proud of how we started the season,” Kaplansky said. “We are sharing the ball. We are playing tough defense. We have team defense, with five guys guarding the ball. We don’t have much size and so we try to put other teams in the half court.”
Baler senior Garcia saw good omens from the game.
“I think we played well,” Garcia said. “We have a few things to clean up. The comeback was due to effort. Our guy (Conley) hit three in a row. It all comes down to effort. That’s what Coach Kap teaches us. Milpitas is as good as any Gabilan team we’ll play.”