Hollister’s Daniel Martinez looks to get on base against the Christopher Cougars in the CCS finals May 25. Photo: Jonathan Natividad

A young and developing Hollister baseball team caught fire late in the season. 

The Balers started the year just 1-5 in non-league action and began league play shakily too, going just 4-6 in the early stages of Pacific Coast Athletic League, Gabilan Division competition. Hollister began to gel and won seven of their final 11 PCAL games, moving the squad up to fourth place in league and earning them a playoff bid.

The Balers then put on quite a show in the Central Coast Section Division III playoffs. Eighth-seeded Hollister dismantled top seed Aptos 11-0 in a shocker. Back on the road they went and the Balers rocked fifth-seeded Pioneer 13-0. 

In the CCS final on May 25, they dropped a nailbiter 3-2 to Christopher at San Jose’s Excite Stadium. The title game appearance was Hollister’s third in the last four seasons.

“We started the playoffs with two consecutive shutouts against two quality opponents,” Hollister coach Michael Luna said. “It starts with pitching. Against Aptos, Wyatt Barton went six innings and then Bryan Lopez got one. Against Pioneer, Daniel Martinez went five innings. We had only one error total in the two games. Hitting came from the entire lineup up and down the order.”

Aptos won the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League title but the Balers shellacked them, scoring in five of seven innings, starting with three in the top of the first. 

Pioneer was in the middle of the pack in the competitive Blossom Valley Athletic League, Mt. Hamilton Division, and the Balers blew them out with a run-rule rout, ending the contest after five frames. Hollister scored 11 runs in the third inning alone, more than double what the Mustangs had allowed in 20 of 27 previous full games, as opponents rarely totaled more than five.

In the CCS final, Hollister outhit Christopher nine to five, with Barton holding down the Cougars. However, Christopher was opportunistic and pieced a few things together for runs, while the Balers hit all day and put 16 runners on base but could not bunch them enough to plate more scores. 

They never were shut down in order in any inning but left 12 stranded on base.

“We just didn’t get the key hit when we needed it,” Luna said.

That was the case all day in a late afternoon contest at the home of the San Jose Giants, minor league team of the San Franciso Giants. The Balers took a 1-0 lead in their first at-bat, but it could have been more. 

With one out, Jacob Antopia singled up the middle, Gavin Rodriguez followed with a single to left and Martinez drew a full-count walk, Trent Roach was hit by a pitch for a 1-0 lead. But with just one out, Christopher pitcher Aaron Van Kerkwyk got out of the bases-loaded jam with a force out and a strikeout.

The Cougars tied the game in the bottom of the first and scored two in the second for a 3-1 lead. Over at the other dugout, the Balers were hitting but had trouble scoring.

Hollister got two runners on base in the second via a Jake Esparza single and a Jordan Quezada hit-by-pitch. In the third, Martinez walked and Roach singled. In both innings, Van Kerkwyk and the Cougars defense wiggled out with no damage.

In the fifth, the Balers banged out four hits but got just one run, as a runner was gunned down at third on a strong throw from right field on a single. Rodriguez, Roach, Brayden Barone and Wes Aviles had the hits.

In their final try in the last of the seventh, the Balers again got two runners on base. Roach walked and Aviles was hit by a pitch. However, lefty reliever Nick Valentine induced a ground ball force play to end the inning and game. A hard ending to swallow tended to mask a fine season and a great playoff run.

After the early stages of the campaign, the Balers had become a force in the Gabilan Division. 

The pitching became more and more dominant with Barton and Martinez. The defense stiffened. Hollister allowed just three or fewer runs in eight of their last 13 regular season games, and in all three playoff games. The offense scored five or more runs in 10 of the last 15 games. 

Honors came to Barton, with a PCAL Gabilan Division first-team award and second-team honors went to Martinez and Brayden Watkins.

The team’s overall record was just 14-16 but the second part of the season was superb and the playoff run was impressive. Reaching a CCS final for the third time in four years stamps the Balers program as one of the big baseball powers in the section.

“I’m proud of these guys,” Luna said. “We had only one returning starter and were young and inexperienced. The growth they made from February and March is unbelievable. I’m so proud of the way they grew and came together.”

Hollister’s Wyatt Barton delivers a pitch against Christopher in the CCS finals on May 25. Photo: Jonathan Natividad
Hollister’s Trent Roach comes in to score, putting the Balers within one run against the Christopher High Cougars in the May 25 CCS finals. Photo: Jonathan Natividad
Hollister High designated hitter Jacob Antopia shakes hands with his Christopher High School opponent prior to the CCS championship game on May 25. Photo: Jonathan Natividad
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