In the end, the Hollister High baseball team was undone by a combination of top-tier competition, injuries and off the field adversity.
The Haybalers saw their season end in a 5-4 loss to Franklin of Elk Grove in a CIF NorCal Regional Division I quarterfinal playoff game on May 30. The result came three days after Hollister suffered a 5-0 defeat to Valley Christian in the Central Coast Section Division I title contest.
Hollister (23-8) lost co-ace Wyatt Barton late in the season, a huge blow because pitching is the No. 1 factor affecting a team’s chances to win a playoff championship. Shortstop Breyon Chavez had to miss several games during the middle of the season and skipper Billy Aviles—who was in his 13th year as the Hollister coach—was relieved of his duties/fired in the final week of the regular-season.
And with Valley Christian and Franklin being two of the top teams in the state, all of the aforementioned factors led to the Balers’ demise. Against Valley Christian, Hollister was making its sixth CCS title game appearance, all since 2007.
And even though the Balers didn’t achieve their final goal, they have no reason to hang their heads. After all, Valley Christian is the preeminent program in the CCS, having won five of the last six Open/Division I titles. And Franklin is the reigning Sac-Joaquin Division I champion and boasts three Division I-commits on its roster.
Hollister was never in it against Valley Christian but was primed to beat Franklin, taking a 4-1 lead after two innings. Matt Pena had a two-run single in the first and Jaden Mingus hit a towering two-run home run in the second to stake the Balers to an early lead.
However, Franklin started to chip away, scoring a run in the third and two in the fourth before overtaking Hollister with the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run in the sixth. Hollister made a couple of key defensive mistakes that proved costly.
Brandon Flores started and Pena relieved, and both pitched relatively well. The first two games in the CCS postseason—a 6-1 win over St. Francis followed by a 10-0, five inning, mercy-rule victory over Live Oak—were highlighted by dominant starts from Trent Roach and Flores.
Roach is just a sophomore and has verbally committed to Cal, though if the talented right-hander continues to develop, it’s conceivable other power conference programs will make him offers within the next year.
Roach’s ability was on display against a powerful Valley Christian lineup, as he allowed just two earned runs in five solid innings of work. In the CCS semifinal against Live Oak, Flores 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. 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.”
Mingus went 3-for-4 in that contest, Matt Pena 2-for-4 and Gavin Rodriguez had a bases-loaded double. The Balers went 17-4 to run away with the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division championship but will need to wait at least another year to win the title that has eluded them most: a CCS championship.