The Hollister High softball team finds itself in a rather interesting position this season.
The Haybalers are clearly better than most of the teams in the Central Coast Section, but judging by one of their latest results against powerhouse St. Francis of Mountain View, not quite ready to challenge the elite West Catholic Athletic League teams just yet.
Hollister was nearly mercy-ruled in a 10-2 loss to the Lancers in their non-league contest on March 25. That makes the Balers 0-4 vs. St. Francis and Mitty—the top two teams in the section—dating back to last year.
Last season, Hollister lost to St. Francis 8-0 and to Mitty by scores of 4-1 and 14-1, the latter a mercy-rule loss in the opening round of the CCS Open Division playoffs. The team was hopeful it had closed the gap but the latest result shows much improvement still needs to be made.
The good news is Hollister has plenty of talent and still has time to close that gap. Its ability was on full display in a 4-3 win over Central High of Fresno on March 27.
The Balers ran their record to 11-2 after beating a Central team that entered the contest a perfect 12-0 with a No. 10 state ranking, according to Max Preps. Grace Peffley went 3-for-4 and had two stolen bases and Taylor Faga had two RBI for a Hollister squad that entered the game ranked No. 13 in California.
Sophia Mariottini pitched a complete-game, allowing three runs while striking out six. The Balers scored all of their runs in the top of the seventh inning, then held off a hard-charging Central team that scored twice in the bottom of the frame.
Hollister coach Andrew Barragan seemed prescient after he said the St. Francis loss was a “little road bump” and he was confident the team would get to where it needed to be come playoff time.
Barring an unforeseen collapse, Hollister will be slotted into the Open Division again where it could be matched up with Mitty or St. Francis. Even in the loss to St. Francis, the Balers displayed some impressive skills. Their infield was like a vacuum, turning hard-hit grounders into routine outs.
Second baseman Emma Gutierrez made two standout defensive plays in the bottom of the third inning and third baseman Hannah Sanchez made a slick scoop of a one-hop liner before throwing to first for the out to end the fifth.
Catcher Dom Oliveira does a masterful job of framing pitches, though the home plate umpire didn’t give Mariottini the outside corner in the early innings vs. St. Francis, much to Barragan’s dismay.
That allowed the disciplined St. Francis batters to wait for something down the middle of the plate and they took advantage to produce 11 hits—six of which went for extra bases—the most by a Hollister opponent this season.
Oliveira accounted for the Balers’ first run, an impressive solo home run to right-center field in the top of the fifth. Then in the seventh, Sanchez laced a double off the wall in right-center and scored on Lauryn McShane’s single.
It was another strong showing at the plate for McShane, who was the only Hollister player with multiple hits, with two. Even though Mariottini got hit hard, the right-hander has been terrific in the circle, earning wins over multiple quality teams including Central.
She also came up clutch in a 3-1 win over Notre Dame-Salinas on March 17, allowing no hits and striking out seven in six innings. Barragan said the Hollister ace has started to fully trust in his pitch calling, resulting in more dominant outings.
“She has matured in the circle to the point of finally having that trust in me in certain situations,” Barragan said earlier in the season. “Whereas before on some pitches, she kind of looks at me as if to say, ‘You sure man?’ But this year her maturity factor has set in and she knows what pitches to throw and trusts me enough now to know why I call a particular pitch.”
Barragan continued in his praise for Mariottini.
“Sophie’s strength is her mental game and that is what is going to propel her from being a good pitcher into a great pitcher,” he said. “And she’s on the verge of being a great pitcher. After the Mitty [playoff] loss, one of her goals was to go back to the drawing board and work on her off-speed pitches and mental game, and you can tell so far she has done that.”