The Hollister High softball team’s season finished June 3, but the awards keep rolling in for the players who made it happen.
SBLive Sports California released its All-State team last week and Haybalers pitcher Sophia Mariottini was named the Player of the Year, first baseman Taylor Faga made the first team and outfielder Grace Peffley was named to the second team. Faga and shortstop Mia Phillips made the Cal-Hi Sports first team and Peffley the second team.
The “awards” season for the top high school softball players is nearing its conclusion and Mariottini has hauled in most of the top honors from the premier high school sports media outlets. Max Preps All-America Second Team and SportsStars Magazine’s NorCal Player of the Year headline the list.
“I was excited for all those honors, but the Max Preps one was amazing,” Mariottini said. “It’s crazy because only a few California girls made that [first team], so I was in shock. But I wouldn’t have gotten here without my team so I’m grateful for all my teammates.”
After the season was over, the softball team was honored in a city council meeting and at the Rotary Club.
“I knew people cared, but I was shocked because it was incredible in how they treated us,” she said. “Even now we’re still getting recognition and it’s amazing and never ending.”
The bounty of awards is no surprise given the recent HHS graduate went 30-2 with a 1.59 ERA in 171 ⅓ innings pitched while also being a tour de force at the plate, hitting .414 with an outstanding 1.117 OPS. All this for a Hollister squad that finished 30-3, won Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division, Central Coast Section and CIF NorCal Regional titles, and finished No. 3 in the Max Preps national rankings.
Peffley hit a team-high .515, with two home runs, 34 runs scored and 29 stolen bases. She’s an incoming junior who also possesses top of the line defensive skills in center field. Faga was named the Cal-Hi Sports Freshman of the Year and to the SBLive All-State First Team.
The power slugging first baseman hit .511 with three home runs, 29 RBIs and a team-best 1.432 OPS. She finished the season on a 12-game hitting streak, culminating with a stirring postseason run that saw her finish 6-for-8 with two walks in three CIF NorCal games.
Possessing tremendous bat-head speed and contact skills, Faga is the rare high school player who can get intentionally walked a couple of times a game. An incoming sophomore, Faga will have Power 5 Conference schools offering her if she continues to progress.
Andrew Barragan, who recently completed his eighth season as the Hollister coach, spoke to Faga’s work ethic just before the season started. Barragan owns the Blackjacks hitting facility in town and was amazed with her focus.
“Taylor shows up every morning to the batting cage and hits before school,” Barragan said. “She lives by Park Hill and rides her bike to the facility to go hit and after that to the high school to start her day. Every morning. I’ve never had a player do that. I just gave her the combo [to get into the building], and she shuts the lights off when she’s done.
“She treats it like it’s her second house. One morning I’m dropping off my granddaughter at school, it’s 6:50am and the lights are on. I’m thinking, ‘What the heck, she left the lights on.’ I park, take a couple of steps and could hear the music playing. Sure enough, I poke my head in there and Taylor is hitting. That’s the kind of player she is. Between her and Mariottini, that’s the road show right there everyone wants to see.”
Mariottini, who will play at Division II program Molloy University (Rockville Centre, N.Y.) next year, plays the most important position in softball: pitcher. Up until this year, the right-hander had put together some solid seasons but in 2023 she took her game to another level.
Using pinpoint control and tremendous movement on her pitches—particularly the screwball—Mariottini was dominant despite not having the prototypical strikeout numbers of the ace that finished as the top-ranked team in California.
However, Mariottini’s ability to use her screwball to jam hitters up and in resulted in routine fly balls and grounders throughout the season. And when an opponent did hit a ball on the screws, players like Dominique Oliveira, Maddie Bermudez and Mia Philips—who was named to the Cal-Hi Sports First Team—were lights-out defensively.
One of the keys to Mariottini and the team’s season was a humbling 10-2 loss to St. Francis on March 25, a game in which the Balers nearly got mercy-ruled. It was an early season showdown pitting the top two squads in the CCS and a golden opportunity for Hollister to show it could hang with the elite of the elite after going 0-3 against Mitty and St. Francis the previous season.
It didn’t happen. Instead, the Balers were outclassed in every facet of the game, and Mariottini had one of her worst stat lines of her career, allowing 11 hits and eight earned runs in five innings. Rather than being demoralized for a sustained period, Hollister used it to propel itself into the history books.
The Balers went 20-1 the rest of the way, beating Mitty and St. Francis en route to the CCS Open Division championship before edging the Lancers again seven days later in the CIF NorCal Regional Division I title game and subsequent No. 3 national ranking.
“After playing them [St. Francis] the first time, we realized, ‘Dang, we could beat this team if we weren’t in our own heads and if we weren’t so nervous,’” Mariottini said. “Before that game, we put them on a pedestal and were kind of scared to play them. But after playing them, we knew we were right at that level. So that game really helped us move forward.”
A 3-2 non-league loss to Mitty on May 1 was also a pivotal moment in the season. Hollister had a 2-0 lead entering the fifth inning only to see Mitty capitalize on a couple of mistakes and rally for a 3-2 victory. That meant the Balers up to that point were 0-5 vs. Mitty and St. Francis dating back to the 2022 season.
“When we lost again to Mitty, it’s like, ‘Wow, is Sophie ready? Is she up for the challenge, is she going to rally,’” Barragan said. “And she absolutely did. Second Team All American, that’s impressive. But I wasn’t surprised. She had a bulldog mentality and she should be right up there earning those honors because she outdueled those top pitchers. So I was pretty ecstatic that those awards came her way.”