Hollister High sophomore Summer Forrest will play a big role on the pitch for the Haybalers girls' soccer team that won both a Central Coast Section and CIF NorCal championships in 2022-23. (Jonathan Natividad/Hollister Free Lance)

It may be a cold winter, but two red-clad Hollister girls teams are red-hot. The basketball and soccer squads have concluded stellar regular seasons and launched themselves into the Central Coast Section playoffs. 

Coach Becky Bonner’s soccer team closed off the league season with a charge. The Balers edged Rancho San Juan 2-1 on a winning score in the final minute, downed Alisal 2-0, gave powerhouse Salinas a huge scare in a close 2-1 loss and then knocked off Presentation 2-0 in the first round of the CCS Division III playoffs.

Early in the campaign, coach Mitch Burley’s Baler ballers were just 4-4 on a challenging pre-season schedule. Since then, the hoopsters have gone 15-1, including a 13-1 mark in the Pacific Coast Athletic League, Gabilan Division to claim their third straight shared league title. Hollister’s postseason came to an unfortunate end in CCS Division I quarterfinal action Feb. 20, as the Balers fell to visiting Carlmont 70-56. 

Hollister’s senior guard Bailey Cotter goes up for a shot against Sobrato High School Dec. 1 at the Watsonville Tournament. Photo: Jonathan Natividad

“It’s the third year in a row that we tied for the league title,” Burley said. “When you put your name on the wall (a league title banner in Mattson Gym), when you come back, you can see what you did. The key was a number of players who have some good skills. Bailey (Cotter) has been the key to it. But there are a number of others. I don’t have to do much.”

In league play, Hollister scored 53 or more points in all 14 contests. A split with Alisal resulted in a shared championship with the Trojans. In the 12 games against all other opponents, the Balers won each by 15 or more points. Additionally, HHS allowed 44 or less points in those 12 games.

On Senior night on Feb. 13, the Balers quickly jumped ahead of Salinas by scores of 23-12 after one quarter and 36-16 by halftime. In the 68-38 victory, senior Bailey Cotter led the way with 20 points and senior Tatiana Marquez drilled five long-range three-pointers on her way to a 19-point night.

“Honestly I was very motivated to play this senior season,” Marquez said. “I knew we would be strong. It feels great to win league again. During the tournament (in Watsonville in December), we were off a bit. Our communication and ball-handling got better. And our friendship within the team is important.”

Marquez was modest about her five treys, citing shooting with confidence. Cotter described her teammate’s performance as “the game of her life.” That perimeter attack illustrates the depth of the Balers beyond Cotter, as coach Burley cited. 

Claire Gho, Emery Sparling and Madelyn Davis make major contributions on both ends of the court. Track star Jasayla Mariscal is a defensive demon with fast hands for steals and a quick vertical that produces spectacular blocks. Miranda Martinez helps lead the way in the backcourt.

“I would say everyone has their own advantage,” Cotter said. “Some rebound, some on defense, some on offense. Everyone has several strengths. And all the girls are super close.

We’re all friendly. You need to have good team chemistry.”

On the other side of campus, the girls soccer team is rolling. The Balers finished league play on a 3-1-1 run and outplayed Presentation in a 2-0 win in their CCS playoff opener on Saturday.

The roll began on Jan. 29 as Hollister defeated defensive-minded Monterey 1-0 on a late goal by Jimena Heredia. After a 0-0 tie with Watsonville, the Balers faced Rancho San Juan in a battle of two of the top teams in league. The match was moved from Rancho to Everett Alvarez as wet conditions necessitated the turf field over at the Eagles’ home. In a thriller, the Balers gained revenge for an earlier 1-0 loss to the Trailblazers with a dramatic 2-1 victory.

Hollister drew ahead 1-0 when a corner kick by Heredia in the 54th minute caromed off a defender and into the goal. Late in the contest, however, Rancho found the equalizer on a shot by Larrissa Lopez-Ordaz in the 89th minute. 

With just a minute of regulation plus injury time remaining, it sure looked like a tie. Coach Bonner lauded her team for not getting their heads down and continuing to play hard until the final whistle. The Balers got the reward. Krystal Tovar made a superb pass ahead of a pack of players and Summer Forrest outraced a few Blazers to get to it first. She popped it over the keeper’s head and into the goal for a 2-1 lead.

“Krystal placed a perfect ball,” Forrest said. “She sent it over the top. I got it and tried to kick it over the goalie. I was so happy when I saw it go in.”

The ball sailed into the goal and the Hollister bench erupted. Victory in the final seconds.

“I feel like we battled really hard today,” Heredia said. “We didn’t step back once they tied it.”

Major contributions came from many players, as is always the case with Hollister. Zamaya Rivera was a force all over the field and was in the middle of the play that resulted in the first goal. Sydney Stacy, Kacey Yannone, Lauren Green, Jesseira Allen, Tovar and Heredia starred up front and in the middle. Morgen Ortiz, Madison Cousins, Karen Alvarado-Castillo and Prienna Chavez fortified the back, along with keeper Itzel Florez. 

The unsung hero was perhaps Alvarado-Castillo as an early Rancho shot appeared to get past Florez but Alvarado-Castillo cleared it before it crossed the goal line.

The Balers followed up with a 2-0 win over a struggling Alisal squad. Green and Forrest scored. Next up was the league champion, powerful Salinas. The Cowboys entered the contest with a 10-0 record in league play, with 33 goals scored against just six allowed. A defeat on their league record—making their ledger actually 10-1—came from a forfeit to Watsonville due to an ineligible player in a game the Cowboys won 3-0.

Hollister High sophomore Zamaya Rivera is one of the main returners for the Haybalers girls’ soccer team that won both a Central Coast Section and CIF NorCal championship in 2022-23. (Jonathan Natividad/Hollister Free Lance)

Salinas had not lost or even tied since Dec. 5. The Cowboys were 13-0, with 42 goals scored against just eight allowed.

Salinas scored in the 29th minute on a rebound tally from Morgan Retterer. In the 54th minute, Retterer ran down a long pass and got clear to pop a shot into the net for a 2-0 lead.

Facing a big deficit against a strong opponent, Hollister dug deep and came up with some of its best play of the season. A corner from Cousins in the 72nd minute was headed by Rivera but blocked. The ball was loose on the doorstep and Forrest banged it home to narrow the score to 2-1.

The Balers elevated their game further and pressed hard in an attempt to tie the match. Forrest belted a strong shot. Tovar combined with her on a play that was barely saved by Cowboys’ keeper Pilar Arreguin, the ball deflected just wide. Heredia combined with Rivera on a dangerous play that was turned aside. 

“It was one of our best games of the year,” Forrest said. “They play quick and they pressure you. We matched their energy. We kept our heads up and we kept pushing. It was a good game to go into CCS with.”

Salinas had many strong chances. Their long balls and talented midfield and forwards have dazzled opponents all year. Hollister kept them under some degree of containment. The unsung heroes were perhaps the defense, led by goalie Florez and her partners on the back line, including Ortiz, Cousins, Elyssa Hernandez, Alvarado-Castillo and Chavez.

“Salinas is very good,” Bonner said. “Especially on first and second touches and they move the ball quickly. We realized we could move the ball and shoot. We settled in and hit our rhythm. When we were down 2-0, we put our heads down and got to work. In the last 10 to 15 minutes, we really hit a rhythm. I think it sets a good tone going into CCS.”

Forrest and Bonner’s comments about the lead-in to CCS play were proven true four days later. On a windy Feb. 17 late afternoon at Andy Hardin Field, the Balers came out focused to defeat Presentation of the West Catholic Athletic League.

In the third minute, Ortiz blasted a long free kick off the crossbar. Midway through the first half, she started the sequence that led to the first goal with another free kick. There was a scrum in front of the net and Yannone ripped home a rebound. Later in the first half, Rivera made it 2-0 on an amazing play, belting the ball into the upper right corner of the goal from 25 yards out.

“This was a really good win,” Rivers said. “We backed each other up. Our defense stepped up really hard. On the goal, I took a chance and shot it. I had to get it to a good spot.”

She drilled the ball to a spot no keeper could touch, and it got there fast. Later in the game, she knocked another shot off the side post, as the Balers were shining all day long.

“I think the girls did beautifully,” Bonner said. “We passed well and we communicated well. Pres always has a quality program. I tell them to crash the goal and Kacey did. Zamaya evaluated the situation. There was an opening and she took it. It was a rocket.”

The unsung hero of the game was perhaps keeper Florez.

“Itzel was on fire,” Bonner said. “She did a good job reading the ball. And when to move out and when to stay back. She has really risen to the occasion. She is mentally tough and keeps her focus.”

Next up is a CCS Division III semifinal on Feb. 21 with the fourth-seeded Balers traveling to top-seeded Piedmont Hills. That match occurred after this newspaper’s print deadline. 

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