Hollister High junior Adrian Valdez hoists the CCS Championship Trophy after the Balers beat Los Gatos in the title Game Feb. 24. Photo: Jonathan Natividad
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Hollister went on an amazing playoff run and captured the school’s first-ever boys soccer Central Coast Section championship. 

The Balers won the Division II title and did so as No. 8 seed, upending host and No. 1 seed Westmont 3-2 in overtime and outplaying lauded Serra of the West Catholic Athletic League 2-1 in San Mateo. Hollister also shut down a strong No. 3 seed Los Gatos side 2-0 on their way to the title.

“I was proud of our team because it has never been done in Baler soccer history,” Hollister’s Adrian Valdez said. “We had many ups and downs throughout the season, but toward the end, we played great and were able to come together.”

The CCS championship trophy matched the school’s first-ever girls soccer team title from 2023, when that crew beat Thomas More, Everett Alvarez and Soledad to win the CCS Division IV title. New heights have been achieved for Hollister soccer on both sides.

After the CCS title, the Baler boys continued play in the NorCal Division III playoffs. They were ousted on Feb. 27 by Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa in a 3-1 game and finished the season with a 12-10-2 record. In the Pacific Coast Athletic League, Gabilan Division, the Balers claimed third place with a 6-5-1 mark.

“I am proud of the team as we never quit,” coach Greg Bloom said. “We advanced past the first round of CCS playoffs by tying the score with no time left on the clock. The players never gave up and we won the first CCS title in school history.”

The team had an inauspicious start. Against early tough competition, they were just 1-4-1. Shutout wins over Yerba Buena and Pajaro Valley to close December provided a glimpse of the improvements coming.

“Coming into the season after an unsuccessful preseason we changed our mindset not only in the game but in practice,” Hollister’s Amado Canelo said. “This change in mindset made us grow as a team and individuals. I believe that the preseason challenge allowed us to grow and come together when we needed to.”

Coach Bloom’s squad rebounded with a 6-0-1 surge beginning on Jan. 11 in league play and the Balers outscored their opponents 16-6 in that span. 

“We had played some pretty hard teams, like St. Francis and Carlmont,” Bloom said. “The team started playing really well starting in mid-January. The bench players picked up their game and really challenged our starters, improving our overall play. The defense was outstanding all season with all of our players committing to tracking back and winning the ball back. Even though we are not a big or strong team, many of the players know how to use their body to recover and win the ball back.”

Hollister stumbled a bit at the end of the regular season. Three losses came and the Balers tallied just one goal during that span. But then the playoffs began.

Westmont, with the top seed, was at home in the playoff opener. Oswaldo Huerta Sanchez scored the Balers’ first goal that day but the Warriors led the Balers 2-1 in the final minutes. With just seconds remaining, first-team all-leaguer David Barba put home the equalizer. In overtime, Hernan Alessandro scored the winner—a huge step forward with a 3-2 victory that stunned host Westmont.

On Feb. 21 in San Mateo, Hollister took on Serra, the alma mater of famous American footballers Tom Brady and Lynn Swann. On the soccer pitch, the Padres were strong, coming off a dramatic win over Aptos. 

The Balers were more than ready for the challenge. Hollister came out roaring with high energy, winning 1-on-1 battles, scoring twice in the first 26 minutes and threatening to score more. On the other end, the defense was fierce in a physical battle, keeping Serra bottled up.

Carlos Garcia and Emiliano Castro led dangerous attacks right off the opening kickoff. In the seventh minute, Diego Hernandez converted. In the 26th minute, Alessandro scored.

“The first play was a cross from Carlos (Garcia),” Alessandro said. “It went to the back post and Diego (Hernandez) finished with a header. The second was a long ball. Emiliano (Castro) trapped it up. I took a touch, settled it and looked for an opening between the two defenders.”

Bloom cited his team’s strong start and noted that the Balers might have even scored more. He complimented the strong defense, especially stellar in the first half. Serra fought hard in the second half. In the final minute, Edward Velazquez scored for the Padres, coming out of a multi-player scrum in front of the goal to make the final tally 2-1.

“We feel excited; the team is at a good area, but the job’s not finished yet,” Alessandro said, after the victory over Serra. “The key was our mindset, and not (letting) the physicality get to us. Defensively, our two center backs Ezekiel (Suarez) and Anthony (Nunez) really stepped up.”

Barba was complemented on the attack and in the middle by Diego Hernandez, Castro, Alessandro, Oswaldo Huerta Sanchez, Adrian Cortes Moreno, Bryan Hernandez and Garcia. The midfield helped stifle Serra’s attack and the back line, including Valdez, Adan Serrato-San Ramon, Nunez, Suarez and Jared Huerta was solid. With others unavailable at keeper that day against Serra, Yair Arias stepped up from the JV team and was superb.

“They didn’t get any good shots until the end,” Bloom said. “We got a little sloppy in the second half. I was really happy with our keeper Yair (Arias). He has really improved. He had control of the box and made smart decisions.”

Bloom cited Barba as both an attacking midfielder and a fine defender and Garcia, a defensive midfielder, as a player who has been solid all year. He added that Diego Hernandez plays deep in the midfield to help the defense, yet added six assists on the season, as of the Serra game. Garcia and Serrato-San Ramon also received First Team honors and Castro, Diego Hernandez and Huerta received Second Team accolades.

“We ran into the wrong team,” Serra coach Michael Keller said. “They had momentum from the jump. That early goal gave them a lot of confidence. That was rough for us. Credit to Hollister. They played well and are well-coached. They had a more complete game. That number nine (Castro) was really good.”

On Feb. 24, the Balers competed in the school’s first appearance in a CCS final. In an afternoon match at Del Mar High in west San Jose, Hollister faced a Los Gatos side that was on a 12-0-3 roll, which included five shutouts. The contest was 0-0 at halftime. In the 62nd minute, Alessandro scored on a penalty kick and later Bryan Hernandez dodged a defender and smashed a shot through the Los Gatos keeper for a 2-0 lead that stood to the end.

Hollister High senior Carlos Garcia battles for possession against Los Gatos in the Feb. 24 CCS Championship game. Photo: Jonathan Natividad

Hollister moved on to play in the NorCal Regional tournament for the first time. In NorCal Division III, 22-2-2 Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa came down to Hollister. 

Nathan Lubega scored on a penalty kick for the Cardinals in the 17th minute. Castro evened the tally with a highlight-reel goal. He stole the ball, dribbled forward, deked a defender and then moved around the keeper to get a good look at the net and kicked it home. 

The score came in the 38th minute and produced a 1-1 tie at halftime. Hollister pressed hard in the second half and had a number of good chances but could not convert. 

In the 62nd minute, Lucas Flores headed in a corner kick for the visitors. Saul Cuellar added a goal in the 70th minute for a 3-1 win.

“After the first 10 minutes of the game I feel that our team settled down and played how we wanted to,” Bloom said. “I felt we had good control of the game, but had trouble generating dangerous opportunities. Their back line defense was outstanding and had a physical advantage over our players. The second goal was off of a corner kick against the run of play. Their third goal happened after we committed players forward near the end of the game and they hit a great shot from the outside.”

Nonetheless, it was a history-making season for Hollister with the team’s first CCS title. Additionally, the Balers have now qualified for the playoffs four straight seasons. The first three of those ended with the playoff opener, but the 2024 Balers took it all the way.

“It was a feeling like I never felt before because in the past season, we have never gone this far,” Valdez said. “It was a very surreal feeling to think we made school history. It is very rewarding to be a part of history, especially because many of us have been playing soccer together since we were seven years old.”

The Hollister High School Balers pause for team photos after winning the school’s first CCS championship Feb. 24. Photo: Jonathan Natividad
The Balers celebrate after the final whistle against Los Gatos in Hollister High’s Feb. 24 CCS championship victory. Photo: Jonathan Natividad
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