Hollister’s Dominique Oliveira slides into base during the Balers’ May 6 Senior Night victory over Stephenson. Photo: Chris Mora

The Hollister softball team capped an amazing 10-day span with an 18-0 blowout win over Stephenson on May 6. That victory gave the Balers their second straight league title, as the previous week included wins over second-place Monterey 6-2 and third-place Salinas 14-2.

Additionally, Hollister picked up two big non-conference victories. The Balers topped Willow Glen, co-champion of the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s top division 6-5 and then went on the road to beat Central Section power St. Joseph’s of Santa Maria 5-3. 

After garnering the title, Hollister lost a non-conference game to Capital Christian of Sacramento to break the streak. But now the Balers are focused on the Central Coast Section playoffs, which begin May 18.

The Balers finished regular-season play with a 21-3 overall record, 13-1 in Pacific Coast Athletic League, Gabilan Division play. They now look to defend their CCS and NorCal crowns. The first steps begin in the CCS Open Division, where No. 2 seeded Hollister kicks off play on Saturday May 18, hosting No. 7 Gilroy, co-champion in the BVAL, Mt. Hamilton Division with Willow Glen.

“These recent games have helped us get ready for the playoffs,” Baler coach Andrew Barragan said. “We are coming together and right now, we’re in sync. Everyone knows their role and everyone has gelled together. We’re on the right path.”

The gauntlet began on April 27 with 16-4 Willow Glen, featuring Alanna Clincy, who pitched the Rams to the NorCal Division II title last year. Clincy had struck out 146 in 85 innings. She struck out just six in 6.1 innings and the Balers touched her and her defense up for six runs.

Three steals and a Grace Peffley hit were part of a two-run third inning that produced a 3-1 lead. The margin grew to 5-1 but the Rams rallied to tie 5-5. In the last of the seventh, Taylor Faga reached on an error, Mia Phillips ripped a single to center, and Faga scored when the Rams couldn’t handle Dom Oliveira’s hard-hit grounder. 

“They were aggressive at the plate,” catcher Oliveira said. “Our pitcher Johnny (Casares) had to work the corners. The defense has her back. Our outfielders can track balls. Mia is our best infielder. She has quick hands. Any ball, she’s gonna get it.”

Phillips made a highlight-reel play in the fifth. The senior shortstop laid out to snare a hot shot to her right, then threw from her knees to first baseman Faga to retire the batter. Avery Chavez made two stellar catches in right field, tracking down a ball into the gap for an out and snaring a hard-hit line drive.

“We’ve turned into a team that you cannot make mistakes on,” Barragan said. “We’ll take advantage. Our high point is our pitching and our defense. We know the offense is always going to be there.”

Next up was a game long ago circled on the Balers schedule. Time to avenge a rare loss, as Monterey upended Hollister 6-4 on March 27. The Balers jumped on top quickly in the rematch, scoring two runs in the first inning. Hollister added two more in the third and rolled to a 6-2 win. 

Phillips went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and Johnny Casares and Peffley each had two hits. Casares allowed just three hits and one run in six innings from the circle, and Eliana Hatchett pitched one frame, allowing a hit and a run.

“We knew what we wanted in the Monterey game,” Barragan said. “That was a revenge game for us. We made it a statement game. Johnny shut them down.”

With that big win under their belt, the Balers traveled over to the Cowboys’ corral two days later and blew Salinas out of the barn. The first matchup had resulted in a 7-6 eight-inning Hollister win but this one was a wipeout from the get-go. 

The red-and-white plated five in the top of the first. When the Balers added four in the fourth for a 10-2 lead, they had it in the bag. A 13-hit attack was highlighted by Phillips’ 3-for-3 day and Casares, who had a single and a grand slam homer over the right-center field fence and totaled six RBIs. 

Maddy Bermudez collected two hits. Everyone in the order had at least one hit. Casares allowed two runs on six hits as the Balers hit the road home early, ending the contest with a 14-2 decision after six frames via run-rule.

“We expected a tight game,” Barragan said. “Their pitcher Abi Jones is going to San Jose State. Our mentality at the plate was to attack early. We punched them in the mouth. And Johnny shut them down. She had a great game, on both sides, pitching and batting.”

On May 4, Hollister beat St. Joseph’s of Santa Maria by a count of 5-3. Peffley had three hits and Bermudez had two hits, while Phillips drove in three runs.

“It was a long trip for us, but the girls responded well,” Barragan said. “They are number 10 in the state and have a very good program. Their pitcher is going to Utah. It was a battle but it’s nothing we had not already seen.”

At home on May 6 for Senior Night, the Balers faced 3-12 Stevenson. The Pirates promised not to be a pushover, as they had stung Monterey 3-2 earlier in the year.

Hollister scored six runs in the second inning, four more in the third and put up an eight-spot in the fourth. Casares struck out seven in a row and handed the ball over early to Hatchett for a frame and Sydney Andrade for an inning.

Oliveira was 4-for-4 with two triples. Emma Gutierrez was 3-for-3 with two doubles. Bermudez was 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Peffley smashed a ball up the right-center gap and roared around the bases for an inside-the-park home run. Faga blasted an offering over the 210-feet sign in left for a homer. The team batted 18-for-33.

Phillips leads Hollister’s offensive stats for the year with a phenomenal 44-for-75 batting average of .587. She also has four homers and has knocked in 43 RBIs. 

Faga is 24-for-54 for .441, Peffley is 34-for-76 for .447, Bermudez is 30-for-71 for .423 and Oliveira is 24-for-56 for .429. 

In the speed department, Bermudez leads with 17 steals, Phillips has 16 and Peffley has 13. On the mound, Casares is 18-3 with a 2.44 ERA.

CCS playoffs are May 18-May 25 and NorCal play is scheduled for May 28-June 1.

Hollister’s Grace Peffley scores a run standing up in the team’s May 6 win over Stephenson. Photo: Chris Mora
Photo: Chris Mora
The Hollister High Balers softball team paused for a team photo after their May 6 Senior Night win at home. Photo: Chris Mora
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