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October 1, 2023

It’s going to be Hollister-St. Francis, one final time in 2023, for all the marbles

As far as storylines and powerhouse matchups go, it doesn’t get better than this.

Hollister and St. Francis, one final time, for the CIF NorCal Regional Division I playoff championship. They’ll meet at Ray Barragan Stadium on Saturday at 4pm, with the winner gaining the title of the best team in Northern California—and in Hollister’s case the best in the state. 


The top seed Haybalers (29-3) won their semifinal, 3-2, over Whitney of Rocklin on Thursday, while the No. 2 seed Lancers (28-3) edged Central High of Fresno, 1-0, in nine innings in their semifinal. In contrast to its opening round/quarterfinal game on Tuesday when it beat Oak Ridge 2-0, Hollister had its usual mojo from the start vs. Whitney. 

The spunk and verve was there from pregame, and despite falling behind early, the Haybalers roared back to pull out another victory against a top-tier team. 

“Today we tried to come out a little hotter than in the last game, which was a little slower,” said senior Sophia Mariottini, who was fabulous in the circle yet again in tossing a complete-game, six-hitter. “So we just tried to keep the energy up and getting those hits really helped.”

Even though Mariottini is known more for her pitching exploits as a dominant ace, she’s worked hard to become potent with her bat. The Molloy University-bound standout had the key hit of the game, a clutch two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the fourth inning that gave Hollister a 2-1 lead it would never relinquish. 

Courtesy runner Avery Chavez—who came in on Taylor Faga’s leadoff single—and Hannah Sanchez, who reached on a walk, both scored on Mariottini’s hit, a line shot that went all the way to the fence in right-center field. 

Whenever Mariottini sees a pitch she likes, she cues in her mind, “Yes, yes, yes.”

“And then I committed to the pitch and hit it,” she said. “And I was just running and [things were so crazy] I didn’t even realize we just scored two runs. Then I saw everyone cheering and got so excited.”

The Balers added a run in the fifth, an insurance one they needed because Whitney scored in the top of the seventh and had the potential tying run on base. Whitney’s Sara O’Dea was on second base when Grace Sage hit a sharp grounder to the left of second baseman Ashlee Io.

The freshman made a diving stop before throwing to first for the out. More importantly, by keeping the ball in the infield, she kept O’Dea from advancing home. Mariottini then retired the next batter to end the game. Io also made a terrific defensive play in the fifth inning, a running catch on the right-field line.

“She’s been great and had to fill in for our starting second baseman who’s been injured,” Mariottini said. “She’s been fantastic and living up to everything she’s believed to be. When she made that play [in the seventh], all I could think was, ‘Yes, thank God, I was so happy.’”

Hollister’s single run in the fifth came off the bat of Grace Peffley, who took the first pitch she saw and drove it for a double down the right-field line. Madeline Bermudez, the team’s leadoff hitter and a Cal Poly-commit, got things started with a one-out triple. 

Just like that, the Balers got the extra run they would need. Faga had a team-high two hits and Dominique Oliveira roped a second-inning double that on any other day would’ve been a home run. However, a strong crosswind prevented the ball from traveling over the fence. 

Oliveira also had a solid at-bat in the fifth, hitting a line drive out that the Whintey center fielder made a nice play on. 

Now it’s on to Saturday and a third meeting with St. Francis this season. The Lancers won the first matchup, 10-2, on March 25. 

But Hollister got the best revenge, a 4-0 victory in the Central Coast Section Open Division championship game last Saturday. Now, the two best teams in Northern California duke it out one final time in the rubber match to determine bragging rights and lay claim as the best team in NorCal and all of California. 

Hollister enters the game ranked No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, a first in program history. 

“We’ve literally been working for this our entire season,” Mariottini said. “We were working for our CCS title but this, too. I never would’ve imagined we’d be here and now we’re hosting the championship game so I’m super hyped and excited.”

Mia Philips records the putout during Hollister’s CIF NorCal Regional Division I playoff victory. Photo by Chris Mora.
Emanuel Lee
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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