After a huge week in which it beat its two chief competitors, the Hollister High girls basketball team showed it is the team to beat in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Gabilan Division this season.
It’s still early, of course, but the Haybalers have put themselves in a great position to repeat as the Gabilan champion–and doing it outright this time. Last year, they shared the title with North Salinas. But after a 77-76 overtime win over Alisal on Jan. 17 and a 57-53 victory over North Salinas two days later, Hollister has the early advantage in the pursuit of a league championship.
The Balers entered the week 4-0 in division play, a game ahead of North Salinas and two up on Alisal. The most encouraging aspect in those games was they won in different ways. Against Alisal, the Balers nearly blew a 19-point halftime lead before standout Bailey Cotter went off in the overtime period.
Against North Salinas, Hollister trailed 45-30 after three quarters before producing one of the more impressive comebacks one will ever see at the high school level, outscoring the Vikings 27-8 in the final quarter. The fourth quarter explosion came after a seven-point third quarter.
“We were shooting a lot and rebounding it, but it seemed like there was Saran wrap around the basket because we just could not make anything,” standout senior guard Jocelyn Alexander said. “In the fourth quarter, I think I said we need to want this more than them and we needed to hustle because we only have one quarter left. And we started working more as a team.”
Alexander, a Cal State Fullerton-signee for track and field, finished with 10 points. Cotter had 15 points, Emmia Rivera eight and Claire Gho finished with 10 rebounds. Gracie Skow converted a layup in the final 20 seconds to extend the lead.
“Gracie making that layup really secured the win,” Alexander said. “In the locker room we were just screaming our heads off, hitting the lockers, it was amazing.”
North Salinas is known for its full-court press and most of its opponents wilt amid the onslaught, leading to a rash of turnovers. However, Hollister was ready to handle the Vikings’ defense.
“We said all season long to get ready for North’s pressure,” Alexander said. “We’ve been practicing to get ready to be double-teamed anywhere on the court, and our young girls have responded really well. I love them. They work really hard, especially in practice and in games like that. I think as a team this year we’re more aggressive, we play together and we fight more and compete.”
Some of the younger players that have emerged include sophomores Camryn Pacheco, Emery Sparling and Gho, and freshman Madelyn Davis. Seniors Juliann Donati, Lindsay Platero and Skow don’t fill up the stat sheet, but they fill their roles nicely and have an impact.
Rivera is a solid ball-handler and can knock down outside shots. Even though coaches rightly preach to take things one game at a time, beating a North Salinas team that has been the premier squad in the Gabilan for the last 10 years is worth getting up about.
“I’ve never seen [Hollister] coach [Mitch Burley] that excited, so it definitely means more,” Alexander said. “It was everything.”
Alexander fouled out in the North Salinas game with about four minutes left, to which she quipped, “Maybe I need to foul out more often.” Of course, Hollister is a better team with Alexander on the court, as she excels in every phase of the game.
If the North Salinas game was a defensive battle, the Alisal contest was an offensive barnburner. Hollister led 37-18 at halftime only to be outscored 21-6 in the third and 24-20 in the fourth to force overtime. Cotter, who finished with 30 points, couldn’t be stopped.
“In the overtime, Bailey literally scored four baskets in a row,” Alexander said. “She just put her head down and it was go time. She was making every layup and hitting all of her outside shots. I knew we were going to win because we were playing so much better than them.”
She has marveled at some of Cotter’s performances this season, and wouldn’t mind if the junior—who is incredibly unselfish—would get selfish at times.
“I love it [when Cotter takes it to the basket strong] and she can do it more often, where she puts her head down, gets confidence and goes at it,” Alexander said. “I’ve been playing with her for a while, and she’s a very bright person to be around. She makes the most unbelievable moves sometimes and I’m amazed, but then I have to remember I have to keep playing.”