Public school versus private school. Third seed against first seed. A 10-2 defeat at their last meeting.
By almost every indicator, the Hollister High softball team (27-3) was the underdog going into its Central Coast Section Open Division championship game against St. Francis (26-3) May 27 at West Valley College.
And yet, the Haybalers came in relaxed and composed, generating a 4-0 victory that gave them their first Open Division title and 13th—count ’em, 13th—CCS championship in program history.
“This is the goal that we had, we knew we were an Open Division team,” coach Andrew Barragan said. “Hollister being still this small little town, it’s a big win for the community. They’ve been pulling for us since day one because we knew we had a special team here.”
Hollister’s top-tier prowess was on display from the first pitch. Literally. Junior left fielder Madeline Bermudez braved a full count to get walked as the first batter of the game before stealing second and third in one play after a pickoff error saw the ball dribble into center field.
This meant that sophomore center fielder Grace Peffley’s right-field single was good enough to send Bermudez to home plate for the opening score of the game.
Senior pitcher Sophia Mariottini picked up right where the offense left off in the bottom of the first inning, creating three pop-ups to retire the favored Lancers. Though she only threw one strikeout in a complete game performance, her focused inside pitches proved to be a kryptonite for the Lancers, who continued to hit pop-ups for easy outs.
“We noticed, even in our [last] game, that they [St. Francis] were really on top of the plate, they’re really hugging the line,” Barragan said. “So our game plan was to go ahead and try to bust them inside and to mix it up a little bit in and out in and out.”
Mariottini delivered on her end, switching up between screws, curves and fastballs that painted the corners, forcing 15 flyouts and four infield dribblers that were scooped up for first-base putouts. Freshman first baseman Taylor Faga was a ball magnet on Saturday, getting under four fly balls and recording another four forceouts on the bag.
“It was just our mentality,” Mariottini said. “Going into our first game with them, you could tell that a lot of us were nervous including myself. I didn’t pitch the best and we had a lot of errors. But this game, we came in fully confident and we were ready to play them.”
This mindset helped key the shutout against a potent St. Francis batting corps, which averaged 7.8 runs entering this matchup; in fact, the Lancers had not gone scoreless for the past 87 games, with their last shutout dating back to a 6-0 loss to Archbishop Mitty in the 2019 Open Division championship.
The senior pitcher was also dialed in with the bats, going 2-for-3 on two singles. Her first single contributed to the Lancers’ decision to make an early pitcher switch at the start of the third inning.
“Mariottini [was]…obviously the MVP of the team,” Barragan said.
While Mariottini’s single did not yield any scoreboard movement, junior third baseman Hannah Sanchez’s third-inning single did. The left-field dinger gave Faga enough time to round two bases, beginning to solidify the score at 2-0.
“After the first inning when we scored, they looked a little bit ‘eh,’” Mariottini said. “As we just kept scoring more, you could tell they were getting a little more quiet and more defeated-looking. So that felt great, honestly.”
The 2-0 scoreline remained until the seventh inning, where junior shortstop Mia Phillips collected an RBI single that sent Peffley home. On the very next pitch, junior catcher Dominique Oliveira hit an RBI double to see Phillips take the fourth and final run to secure the championship.
“We knew the momentum had shifted after the first St. Francis game,” Barragan said. “We knew we had a championship team, we just knew it…We slayed two dragons, Mitty and St. Francis.”
The work remains unfinished for the Haybalers, who earned the top seed in the CIF NorCal Division I Regional tournament. Hollister’s first game will be on Tuesday at 4pm against No. 8 seed Oak Ridge (17-8), this year’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champions. The two sides have never played each other, but Barragan is confident after seeing his team take down two of California’s top squads:
“Defense and pitchers are gonna win us these championships and that’s exactly what happened…We pride ourselves on defense, and that’s been happening the whole year, so we need to keep that going.”
Hollister may see some familiar faces if it gets past Oak Ridge, such as a prospective semifinal rematch with Mitty (21-4), which Hollister took down 4-2 en route to the Open Division title. Additionally, a potential championship rematch is in store if both Hollister and St. Francis come out on their side of the brackets.