What the Hollister 11U Little League All Star baseball team did this summer portends to what could be an incredibly special 2023 season as 12-year-olds.
A team that won the District 9 Tournament championship and played two competitive games in the Section 5 Tournament is projected to have everyone age up together to be on the 12U team next year. In addition, three players off this year’s 12U team who played up a year is projected to return, said David Kaplansky, the 11U manager who is expected to be the 12U skipper next year.
“This was a good preparation year for next year,” Kaplansky said. “What we did in Sectionals really showed we could make a run as a 12-year-old team next year. We’re excited for the 12U season next year.”
The 11U roster includes Erik Baldovinos, Dylan Cantrell, Mathew Campos-Aguilar, Rocco Gamez, Andrew Gonzalez, Taylor Heckman, Reece Kaplansky, Nathan Osorio, Bryant Quezada, Nico Quezada, Jack Silva, Cadence Smith and Phillip Zendejas. Jordan Quezada and Bryan Smith served as the assistant coaches.
Even though Hollister went 0-2 in the Section 5 Tournament at the Gilroy Sports Complex, it lost to the best two teams in the field: Aptos and Santa Teresa. Hollister dropped a tough 1-0 decision to Aptos in the tourney opener on July 14, before getting eliminated by Santa Teresa 7-4 in the next game.
“We definitely had a good run,” Kaplansky said.
The team had an atypical season in that District 9 fielded just two All Star teams in the 11U division—Hollister and Manzanita—this summer. Knowing this, the team made sure to schedule a doubleheader with the Los Banos All Stars a couple of days prior to the start of the District Tournament.
Hollister won both contests against Los Banos, 5-2 and 12-7, which was vital because it provided the team something Manzanita could not: competition. In the District Tournament, Hollister crushed Manzanita 15-0 and 18-0, the latter coming on July 2. So, the Los Banos mini series proved vital on many fronts.
“We were able to get two competitive games with Los Banos to make up for the lack of competition, which really helped us prepare for the summer,” Kaplansky said. “That was a good evaluation day and we were able to plug in our lineups and pitching, which allowed me to evaluate and see what we had. That doubleheader really allowed us to get fluency and a lot of quality at-bats, and so going in against Manzanita we were confident. I could tell after playing Los Banos we would have a good team.”
In the Section 5 opener against Aptos, Hollister received a superb pitching performance from Heckman, who allowed just one run in five innings against a potent lineup.
“Taylor Heckman pitched lights-out and kept the ball down all game,” Kaplansky said. “Our defense just played outstanding behind him.”
Especially center fielder Baldovinos, who made some incredible plays.
“Erik Baldovinos made some amazing plays in center running down (would-be) quality hits that kept us in the game,” Kaplansky said.
Cadence Smith and Reece Kaplansky both went 2-for-3, but Hollister was unable to scratch any runs across. Its best chance came when it loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, but Aptos managed to escape the jam unscathed.
“That was just an amazing baseball game,” Kaplansky said. “Our defense was spectacular—we had no errors—and our pitching was unbelievable.”
Hollister got off to a rocky start against Santa Teresa, allowing five runs in the top of the first inning. But Kaplansky was proud of the players for being resilient as they answered with four runs in the bottom half. Kaplansky praised Smith for coming on in relief with no outs in the first and lasting all the way until the sixth inning, delivering a workmanlike 88 pitches in the process.
“Cadence Smith was just fantastic,” Kaplansky said. “He calmed us down, got us under control, threw strikes and gave us an opportunity to win that game.”
Osorio went 2-for-3 as did Reece Kaplansky, who had the team’s only extra-base hit, a double. Kaplansky led the team overall in hitting, finishing 9-for-13 through District and Section while playing catcher and pitcher. Quezada, Smith and Silva also had hits against Santa Teresa.
“We played well, but we just left too many guys hanging on base,” Kaplansky said.
Hollister Little League baseball tends to be a generational thing. The entire coaching staff of Kaplansky, Smith and Quezada are Little League alumni, with Kaplansky being named an All Star in 1988.
“Any time I can put an H on my hat or chest, it makes me proud,” Kaplansky said. “I love this town. There’s a lot of tradition and you take pride in being able to represent your town and being an All Star.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]