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May 31, 2023

Los Gatos, Hollister baseball teams have the potential for truly special seasons

When it comes to the premier public high school baseball teams in the Central Coast Section, it doesn’t get much better than Hollister and Los Gatos. 

The two perennial powers faced off April 10 with the host Wildcats prevailing, 7-4. The result improved Los Gatos’ record to 13-6 while the Haybalers dropped to 12-2, their second straight loss after opening the season with a dozen wins in a row. 

The Wildcats were coming off an impressive 4-1 win over St. Ignatius on April 8 and coach Mike Minkel couldn’t be more pleased after his club knocked off another quality A-league opponent in Hollister. 

“We play unconditional baseball, we play for each other, and that’s what you saw today,” he said. “A lot of unselfish play, a big-time team win and I couldn’t be happier with how our guys played.”

Carter Johnstone, one of the leading hitters in the section, showed why, reaching base in all four of his plate appearances, with two singles, a triple and a hit by pitch. The Wildcats did most of their damage in the bottom of the fourth inning, scoring five runs. 

Johnstone had an RBI triple, Santino Nanez a run-scoring double and Leo Manfredi a run-scoring single in the frame, which saw Donovan Freed lead off with a double. Although the Balers were credited with just one error, coach Billy Aviles said there were several balls that were not fielded cleanly and could’ve been recorded as errors, plays they normally make. 

“Los Gatos is a quality club and you can’t make mistakes against a quality club and expect to win,” he said. “We didn’t take care of the baseball early and it came back to bite us. We had two innings and gave up crooked numbers and against good teams you can’t do that. You can’t give good teams extra outs, it’s not going to work.”

The Balers’ Breyon Chavez went 2-for-3 and had two stolen bases, and Gavin Rodriguez also finished 2-for-3. Hollister scored single runs in the first, second, fifth and sixth innings, with Trent Roach, Dominic Esparza and Rodriguez each driving in one run. 

Rodriguez did a nice job of throwing out a would-be base stealer in the sixth, catching a low pitch before gunning the ball to second for the out. Roach was robbed of an extra-base hit when left fielder AJ Ljepava tracked down a line shot to left-center in the third. 

Roach has been dominant most of the season but against Los Gatos allowed eight hits and five earned runs in 4 ⅔ innings. AJ Minyard was the Wildcats’ sixth and final pitcher, striking out the side in the seventh to close things out in dominating fashion. 

The Wildcats’ pitcher by committee was by design and a testament to their tremendous depth on the bump. This was their only game of the week as the school is on spring break, and they don’t play again until a pivotal two-game set with Wilcox April 19 and 21. 

“Trying to see what we’ve got and obviously getting guys some time knowing we don’t really have anything for the rest of the week,” Minkel said. “There’s no sense of holding anything back and throwing everything we’ve got for a one-game week.”

Massimo Richiuso was terrific against St. Ignatius, allowing just one run and two hits over five innings. 

“Massimo’s been a guy we just kind of got back recently the last couple of weeks, and we’re trying to ease him back into it,” Minkel said. “But he’s about as gritty as they come.”

Los Gatos sits atop the ultra-competitive SCVAL De Anza Division with a 6-0 mark, having won each game by four runs or more. 

“We’re playing really well right now,” Minkel said. “Unfortunately, spring break comes at a very inopportune time when we’re really starting to hit our stride a little bit. We’re still not exactly where we need to be, but we’re getting there.”

Meanwhile, Aviles said he wasn’t worried about the state of his club after losing two straight, the first a 13-5 defeat to Carmel on April 6. 

“No need for concern, we just have to bounce back and get to battling,” he said. “It’s baseball, pitching and defense wins, and the last couple of games we haven’t pitched and played defense exceptionally well. And that was the key early [to our success]. Just a small hiccup halfway through the season. Better it happens now than coming down the stretch. We’ll get back to work tomorrow and try to correct some of those things. We’ll bounce back.”

With frontline starters in Roach and Wyatt Barton and a quality starter-reliever in Brandon Flores, Hollister figures to be in good shape the rest of the way. It is 9-1 in PCAL Gabilan Division and doesn’t have another league game until April 18 vs. Soledad. Los Gatos has proven it can compete with the top teams from the West Catholic Athletic League, which is no small feat. 

Even though the Wildcats are just 1-3 against WCAL teams this season, all three of those defeats—to St. Francis, Serra and Mitty—came by one run. A De Anza Division championship would put them in the Division I field with the very best teams in the CCS. 

The same goes with Hollister. As probable winners of their respective A leagues, Hollister and Los Gatos could see each other again down the line in the Division I playoffs where it would be slotted with the top WCAL schools.

Hollister shortstop Breyon Chavez makes a nice play in Monday’s game with Los Gatos. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
James Denight was the first of six pitchers that saw the mound for Los Gatos Monday. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Balers pitcher Trent Roach is amped after inducing an inning-ending double play in the third. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Emanuel Lee
Emanuel Lee is the sports editor of the Los Gatan, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. An American High and University of Kentucky alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Gavilan College, various youth sports in south Santa Clara/San Benito counties and pro sports on occasion. Two decades of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. With the Weeklys/NewSVMedia group since 2013. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40 (7:24 mile pace), counts himself as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza. Coaches, athletic directors and parents are encouraged to report scores to [email protected].

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