Hollister’s Daniel Martinez throws a pitch in the Balers’ 4-2 victory over Palma on March 19. Photo: Jonathan Natividad

Hollister’s pitching has been strong all year, while the team’s hitting has been uneven. In this past week’s series against Monte Vista Christian, the offense caught fire as the Balers scored 22 runs in two decisive victories. With nine league games remaining, Hollister is in the middle of the league, just barely out of third place, and looking to move up into playoff position.

“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster,” coach Michael Luna said. “We’re a young team; we start three sophomores and one freshman. We have only two returning varsity players. Slowly but surely, we’re getting better and better. We’ve been in every single game except for one. Hopefully, that keeps continuing.”

In the Pacific Coast Athletic League, Gabilan Division standings, Carmel at 11-1 and St. Francis at 9-3 rule the roost. Then comes a four-team logjam, with Salinas at 7-5, Palma and Monterey at 6-6, and the Balers at 5-6. Pacific Grove at 2-9 and 1-11 MVC bring up the rear.

On a windy, cloudy Friday April 12, the Hollister bats were hot. They were following up on Wednesday’s road win over MVC in which they put up 12 runs in three innings before the Mustangs forfeited when injuries reduced them to eight players. 

Back at home, Hollister completed the sweep of the Mustangs with a 10-3 win. The Balers scored three in the first, three in the third, added two in the fourth and another pair in the fifth. Jordan Quezada, Braydon Watkins and Jakey Esparza all had two-hit days and contributions came from up and down the lineup.

“Offensively, the last two games we’ve scored double digit runs,” Luna said. “We had just 22 runs in league so far and now had 22 runs in just two games. We’re getting more guys better at-bats. The top three have been contributing all year; now more players are contributing. We’re getting more quality at-bats.”

Hollister jumped on MVC starter Dante Darnel. Quezada ripped the first pitch of the day into left field for a single. Gavin Rodriguez was hit by a pitch. Watkins bunted for a single and a throwing error plated Quezada, with the others moving into scoring position. Two more runs scored later.

Small ball and a big hit from Esparza added three runs in the third. Watkins doubled to deep left to score two in the fourth. His blast one-hopped the wall near the 310-foot sign. Consecutive hits from Esparza, Westin Aviles, Braydon Barone and Quezada put two more runs on the board in the fifth.

On the other side, Barton struck out the first four MVC batters and 10 on the day. In six innings of work, only two Mustangs put balls into the outfield.

The pitching has been solid all season, with Barton and Daniel Martinez leading the way. Excepting one rough game against Carmel, the Balers had allowed just 29 total runs in eight league contests. 

On April 12, Barton dazzled the Mustangs, shutting them down in 1-2-3 order for the first three innings while Hollister built a 6-0 lead. For six innings, he allowed just one hit and the three runs were unearned.

“It started well,” Barton said. “They got three—it happens—but we just go back on offense and put more runs up. I want to thank the eight players behind me. And my catcher Gavin (Rodriguez) for all these times he’s caught me. Definitely have great communication with him. I was pounding the fastball in the zone. As the game went on, I worked in the change-up and the slider to keep them off balance.”

Barton and Rodriguez have been a battery together for four years at Hollister. Martinez also pitches and Celso Lopez is the third hurler for the Balers. On Friday against MVC, the infield behind Barton featured Kaden Rodriguez, Barone, Esparza and Aviles. On the outfield grass, the trio was Watkins, Quezada and Martinez. The Balers also have a solid bench.

“Wyatt, our starting pitcher, has been very good the last four outings,” Luna said. “He was good today. He throws all three pitches for strikes—the fastball, the curve and the change-up. It’s outstanding to do that at the high school level.”

Next up on the schedule this week is a home-and-home pair with Salinas. The Balers traveled to the Cowboys’ home on April 16 and will host them back on April 18.

“The top four automatically make the playoffs,” Luna said. “We’re trying to get there. We’re just one behind third place.”

Hollister High’s Brayden Watkins steps into the box against Palma on March 19. Photo: Jonathan Natividad
Hollister’s Kaden Rodriguez swings for a base hit in the Balers’ March 19 game against Palma. Photo: Jonathan Natividad
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