If the Hollister High baseball team has a run in it to win the program’s first Central Coast Section championship, this year’s squad probably represents its best opportunity in the last handful of seasons. That’s because the Haybalers return their entire infield, their center fielder and three pitchers who played a key role on last year’s team.
In first baseman Matt Pena, second baseman Jaden Mingus, shortstop Breyon Chavez and third baseman Billy Aviles—first or second team all-leaguers from 2022—Hollister has a quartet who have primarily been starters since their sophomore years.
Add in center fielder Adrian Ruiz and there’s plenty of experience, which longtime coach Billy Aviles said will be vital in the team’s pursuit of the coveted CCS title.
“Their experience and their game presence is huge because they’re always in the right spot and they’re leaders,” said Aviles, who is in his 12th season as the Hollister skipper. “It’s like having five more coaches on the field. We’re definitely strong top to bottom and pretty deep offensively in our lineup. We’re outstanding defensively and pitching-wise. It’s a very hungry group, they all want extra work, they’re at practice early and they stay late. They’ve got all the intangibles you want and hopefully that gets us over the top to win that first CCS title.”
The Haybalers won their Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division opener 4-3 over St. Francis of Watsonville on March 7, improving them to 4-0 overall and 1-0 in league. They scored all of their runs in the third and held off a hard-charging Sharks team which scored three times in the top of the sixth to make things close.
Aviles said Chavez delivered a key hit and run that advanced runners to second and third base during the four-run third. Gavin Rodriguez had a single and later scored on a wild pitch, and Aviles’ son had a run-scoring fielder’s choice to score Pena.
Wyatt Barton started and delivered five innings of shutout ball, allowing just one hit. Aviles expects Barton to have more dominant outings as the ace of the staff.
“Wyatt can throw three pitches for strikes, has a lot of run on his fastball and really competes on the mound,” Aviles said.
The Balers have a tremendous trio of starters in Barton, Trent Roach and Brandon Flores. Roach is a 6-foot-4, 215-pound sophomore who is receiving a lot of interest from power conference Division I programs.
Aviles said Cal has already made a scholarship offer to Roach and schools such as Texas A&M and TCU have also shown serious interest.
“He’s getting pretty big looks and is an imposing presence on the mound and a big, strong kid,” Aviles said.
Flores can be dominant as he’s got tremendous movement on his pitches, including a cutter that starts behind the hitter and has a massive break to it.
“Brandon comes from a three-quarters arm slot, can throw four pitches on any count and mixes speeds well working the ball in and out,” Aviles said.
Pena can also be effective on the mound and eat up some innings. Pena is batting leadoff this season to maximize his plate appearances because he’s the team’s best overall hitter. Aviles said the biggest surprise pitching-wise this season has been the emergence of Celso Lopez.
“In the beginning of tryouts you’re wondering who this guy is and he comes out scrappy and bringing it,” Aviles said.
Brayden Watkins and Donno Haertel—who had a standout performance in the season-opening Wilcox High Tournament—are football standouts whose athleticism have translated well to baseball, and they’re looking to continue to be impact players.
Sophomore catcher Rodriguez has also emerged as a difference maker. Aviles said Rodriguez reminds him of former Balers standout Zack Moeller, who went on to play at the University of Utah.
“Gavin can be pretty special,” Aviles said. “He’s got a game presence and is very talented. The great thing is Zack is coaching with us this year and has been able to mold Gavin and mentor him, so his upside is huge.”
Aviles added it’s a particularly exciting season for him as he’s coached many of the players since they were in Hollister Little League. Many of them have already committed to play at the four-year level, including Ruiz (Sonoma State), Mingus (Westmont) and Chavez (Cal State Monterey Bay). Aviles said Pena will commit to a four-year program before the school year is over.
Additionally, Aviles’ son will compete in rodeo in college and has a promising pro career.
“It’s an exciting year for me because I’ve coached half these guys since they were in t-ball all the way up until now,” he said. “To see the culmination of their high school careers and be a part of that is pretty special. It’s been a fun ride and hopefully we can finish it out.”