Hollister High pitcher Brandon Flores was masterful in the CCS Division I semifinals, coming within an out of a five inning no-hitter in a 10-0, mercy-rule victory over Live Oak on Wednesday at Excite Ballpark. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

To win the program’s first Central Coast Section championship, the Hollister High baseball team will have to go through the team that can lay claim as the section’s best for the better part of a decade: Valley Christian. 

The Haybalers wouldn’t have it any other way. With a 10-0, five-inning, mercy-rule victory over Live Oak in the Division I semifinals on Wednesday at Excite Ballpark in San Jose, No. 6 seed Hollister (23-6) looks to achieve the one thing the tradition-rich program has yet to do: win a CCS title. 

The Balers and top seed Valley Christian (28-3) play on Saturday at 7pm at Excite Ballpark for the Division I championship. 

“It feels good, a lot of emotions. Feel super excited, but we can’t let the goal slip our mind,” senior Brandon Flores said. “We just got to lock in and get this one last win.”

Flores was a big reason why Hollister was able to dominate a Live Oak team that was coming off an impressive 7-2 win over Mitty. The 6-foot-2 right-hander allowed just one hit, a solid single to left field with two outs in the top of the fifth inning. With Hollister being the home team, Flores started the game on the mound. 

And, in an act of symmetry, Flores was also at the plate at-bat when the game ended, as Adrian Ruiz scored on a wild pitch with two out in the bottom of the fifth to make it 10-0 and induce the mercy rule. Flores did it all, with a run-scoring walk in the first inning and an RBI single in the third hitting No. 7 in the order. 

His terrific pitching performance came four days after fellow starter Trent Roach was dominant in a 6-1 win over St. Francis in the quarterfinal round. Jaden Mingus went 3-for-4 in that contest, Matt Pena 2-for-4 and Gavin Rodriguez had a bases-loaded double. 

How dominant was Flores vs. Live Oak? He allowed just one runner past first base, in the fifth inning. Flores went exclusively with a fastball and slider to keep the Live Oak hitters off-balance.

“By far my best start of the year,” he said. “Key for me was just get my job done, trust my teammates. I know I’ve got one of the best defenses in the state of California behind me so I just have to let them work.”

Rodriguez gunned down a Live Oak runner leaning too far off the first-base bag in the second, a terrific play that highlighted the team’s error-free game. Hollister finished with seven hits—all singles—but drew eight walks to consistently get runners on and advance them bases. 

Additionally, they were hit by a pitch twice. Pena and Mingus, the Nos. 1-2 hitters in the order, had two hits each, Ruiz reached base in all four of his plate appearances and cleanup hitter Jacob Antopia drew a pair of walks and was hit by a pitch. 

Flores helped his own cause with a run-scoring walk in the first and an RBI single in the third. Not known for his bat, Flores said playing travel ball with the Monterey Bay Pirates over the off-season helped develop his hitting. 

“I really found some things in my swing I liked and so I just carried that over into the season,” he said. 

Still, it took Flores a while before he found his rhythm. 

“I really didn’t get any at-bats in the beginning of the season and just started to trust my swing toward the end,” he said. “The hard work pays off.”

Flores actually threw sidearm for most of his career before switching to a three-quarters delivery arm slot after the 2022 season ended. It took a while for Flores to get back to form, but Wednesday’s performance gave him encouragement. 

“I made the change for the future and better off-speed stuff from that slot,” he said. “For me today it was strictly fastball-slider. My fastball had a lot of run to it so I was just letting them beat it up in the air, beat it on the ground, let them beat themselves.”

Hollister is in a rather unique situation as longtime coach Billy Aviles—who took over late in the 2011 season—was officially relieved of his duties in the final week of the regular-season. However, Flores said that has only spurred on the team going forward. 

“We feel for our coach, we wish he was here for us but at the end of the day we’re worried on getting him that ring,” Flores said. “To see his club get that championship for the first time, even if he’s in the stands and not right there next to us would be great. … We came into this season with a chip on our shoulders after getting knocked out in the first round last year, and we have that championship mentality.”

The Hollister baseball team defeated Live Oak 10-0 to advance to the CCS D-I title game. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Matt Pena rounds third base to score one of the Balers’ three runs in the first inning. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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