They're No. 1! The Hollister High softball team celebrates after winning the CIF NorCal Regional Division I playoff championship game against St. Francis May 3 against St. Francis 1-0 in nine innings. Photo by Raul Ebio.
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After a 10-2 loss to St. Francis on March 25—a game in which the Hollister High softball team nearly got mercy-ruled—the Haybalers learned a valuable lesson: adjust to the home plate umpire even if the calls aren’t going their way. 

Hollister did that and more, winning 22 of its final 23 games en route to league and section titles before concluding with a riveting 1-0, nine inning win over St. Francis on June 3 in the CIF NorCal Regional Division I playoff championship game at Ray Barragan Stadium. 

Top-seed Hollister finished the season 30-3 and beat the No. 2 seed Lancers (29-4) seven days after dominating them 4-0 in the Central Coast Section Open Division championship contest. The latest victory was historic on many fronts, the most important being Hollister will finish as the No. 1 team in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, a first not just for the softball program but all of the school’s sports teams. 

“It’s history,” Haybalers coach Andrew Barragan said. “What can we say, we’ve been doing this all year. We put one of the toughest schedules in California in front of the girls for this championship type caliber game.”

And it paid off big time. Simply put, the difference in this game was defense and ace Sophia Mariottini, who hurled another gem, this time a two-hitter to shut out a potent St. Francis offense for the second time in as many games and run her scoreless streak against them to 16 innings. 

“Mariottini’s been doing it all year and she didn’t have the best command today, but she was obviously effective enough to get their hitters off-balance,” Barragan said. 

The only run of the game came in the bottom of the ninth inning. Dominique Oliveira hit a leadoff single which put courtesy runner and the speedy sophomore Kyla Hignel at first base. Hannah Sanchez laid down a sacrifice-bunt to advance Hignel to second before Mariottini was intentionally walked. 

Lauryn McShane followed with a ground ball to the St. Francis second baseman, who made a perfect throw to the shortstop who was on the second-base bag for the potential force-out. However, the shortstop dropped the ball, it got away and Hignel was off and running and scored standing up. 

That set off a wild Hollister celebration, with the players immediately dousing Barragan with the customary Gatorade shower/bath. 

“I feel like this is what we’ve practiced for, worked hard as a team together and we push each other very well,” said Taylor Faga, the freshman sensation who led Hollister with two singles and reached base in three of her four plate appearances. “[St. Francis] is a really good team, I’m very proud of them, too. Shout out to them, they played a really good game. But we practice harder, we play harder and that’s what we get. We beat the same team two times [in a span of a week].”

Though offense was hard to come by in this contest—with Mariottini and St. Francis counterpart Kate Munnerlyn dealing—both teams still had chances to score before the ninth. The Lancers threatened in the top of the first inning, putting baserunners on second and third base with one out before Mariottini got out of the jam by inducing a popout and lineout, the latter caught by third baseman Sanchez. 

Hollister had an even better chance in the bottom of the fourth, putting baserunners on second and third with no out. However, the team came up empty. Still, Barragan knew more opportunities would arise if the players kept grinding. 

And that’s exactly what happened. 

“We knew at some point something was going to happen,” he said. “We just needed to just keep putting the pressure on.”

Pitching and fielding was the X-factor, as Hollister played flawlessly on defense while St. Francis committed three errors that led to the lone run. Center fielder Grace Peffley made a tremendous running catch in the gap in right-center for the second out in the seventh, while sophomore Mia Philips was a vacuum at shortstop, scooping up balls and firing them to first in such routine fashion that seemingly everything that comes her way—no matter how difficult—turns into an out. 

That’s why Barragan said Philips is the best fielding infielder he’s ever seen at this level. Mariottini wasn’t at her absolute best so in many ways this start was more impressive than any previous this season. 

Championship winning athletes need to be able to get the job done when they’re not at their best, and that’s exactly what the senior right-hander did. 

“Sophie was able to work in and out to keep them off-balance,” Barragan said. “We knew their game plan as far as offense because they were pretty vocal in the paper saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to attack the first pitch.’ We knew that and Sophie was able to work the ball in and out.”

Faga, who in all likelihood will end up getting offers from the premium NCAA top-10 Division I programs in the coming years, has been impressed with Mariottini since Day One. 

“Sophie is just Sophie,” Faga said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pitcher like her. … Sophie carried the team pretty well and just because they [St. Francis was] the No. 1 team in the nation, she’s the No. 1 pitcher in the nation for us. I’m very proud of her and everyone on the team.”

Winning CCS and CIF NorCal titles in the same season is a major accomplishment, but to do it in the top division against the best West Catholic Athletic League schools puts this Hollister team as the best in school history.

Kyla Hignel scores the game-winning run in front of a pumped-up HHS coach Andrew Barragan. Photo by Raul Ebio.
Grace Peffley is pumped and put the ball in play as she’s done all season, reaching base in two of her four plate appearances in the CIF NorCal Regional Division I playoff championship game against St. Francis. Photo by Raul Ebio.
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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.

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