The Ceres High infielder nudged Gatorade National Player of the Year Madilyn Nickles of Merced for top local honor in Stanislaus/Merced County and does the same for state’s highest, longest-running individual softball selection. It’s another tough choice in a sport that has seen several of them in recent years.
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An area known in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section as the Stanislaus District in some years does not even get one player in softball up onto the 30-player list of the Cal-Hi Sports Super Elite All-State Team.
This year, however, it’s not a stretch whatsoever to say the final top two players on the board to be the 2016 Ms. Softball State Player of the Year were both from the Stanislaus District, which basically covers Stanislaus and Merced counties and is the main coverage area of the Modesto Bee.
When one of those two players, Merced infielder/pitcher Madilyn Nickles, was recently chosen as the Gatorade National Player of the Year, thoughts immediately turned to the other, Ceres High standout infielder Nicole Bates. Nickles also was the popular choice on a Cal-Hi Sports twitter poll among nine statewide finalists, but the Modesto Bee voted Bates as its player of the year.
In the end, we agree with the Bee. Bates not only edged Nickles for the local honor, but she also edges out several other finalists, primarily Etiwanda senior Vanessa Taukeiaho and Mission Viejo junior Camryn Ybarra, and is the 2016 Ms. Softball State Player of the Year.
“Thank you so much,” Bates said on Tuesday evening while having dinner with her club team, the Rico Firecrackers, after playing two games at a tournament in Colorado. “It’s hard to believe.”
Bates is not the first-ever Ms. Softball winner from the SJS, but she’s the first from Stanislaus County. The last State Player of the Year from the section was Katie Cotta of Linden in 2005. Others have been Anjelica Selden of Vanden (Fairfield) in 2004, Alicia Hollowell of Fairfield (2002), Andrea Vidlund of Casa Roble (Orangevale) in 1999, Karen Jackson of Roseville in 1990 and Shawn Andaya of Lodi in 1983.
The key for Bates, who will play next at Washington, is that she led Ceres to a section title in combination with being one of the top 10 national recruits in her class, according to FloSoftball.com. She also put her name into the state record book in numerous career and season categories.
In the team’s final series against Benicia for the SJS Division III title, Bates went 6-for-7 with two doubles and helped turn a double play that ended the deciding game. Ceres (23-5, No. 2 in final D3 state rankings and No. xx overall) won its first section title in 21 years and won in a bracket that included two other teams, East Union of Manteca and Oakdale, that were in the State Top 20 for most of the season.
“The whole thing (for being Ms. Softball) is because of our team,” Bates said. “It was a big accomplishment for us to win that title and it was a lot of fun. A lot of the girls I’ve been playing with since we were a very young age. Our chemistry was really good and that really helped us out.”
For the season, Bates racked up a career best in batting average (.571) on 60 hits (a total that gets her into the record book). She also had 33 RBI, five homers and struck out just five times in 113 plate appearances.
It’s Bates’ career totals, however, that made more of a difference. Her career batting average in 114 games (.512) plus her number of career hits (205), doubles (31), triples (22) and runs (171) all gain entry into the state record book. Her runs total also ranks in the top five in state history while her hits total is in the top 10.
Nickles made a strong case as well, leading a young Merced team that also only had one other senior with travel ball experience to the SJS D1 semifinals. She also pitched for the Bears and despite splitting time as the starter in her freshman and sophomore seasons still had more than 800 career strikeouts. Nickles also had more doubles (56) and homers (25) in her career than Bates and last summer was the only high school junior on the U.S.A. Junior National Team.
“Madilyn has been fun to play with when that’s happened,” said Bates, who played on a team with Nickles when they both were 10 and sometimes works out alongside Nickles at Bonsu Elite Athletics. “She’s a great player. She can do it all.”
The duo will meet again in Pac-12 games with Nickles at UCLA and Bates at Washington.
“I’m just trying to work on perfecting the little things,” Bates said of her goals for the rest of the summer. “I’d just like to go in there (to Washington) and help out in any way I can.”
While she’s doing that, Bates might just have a little extra bounce in her step as the Ms. Softball State Player of the Year.
ALL-TIME LIST CAL-HI SPORTS
MS. SOFTBALL STATE PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2016 — Nicole Bates, Ceres INF
2015 — Taylor McQuillin, Mission Viejo P
2014 — Johanna Grauer, Pleasanton Amador Valley P-DH
2013 — Kylie Reed, Norco INF
2012 — Emily Lockman, Norco P
2011 — Lauren Sweet, Corona Santiago C
2010 — Jessica Hall, Chino Hills Ayala P
2009 — Keilani Ricketts, San Jose Archbishop Mitty P-DH
2008 — Jessica Spigner, Valencia P-SS
2007 — Jordan Taylor, Valencia P
2006 — Amanda Williams, Oakley Freedom P
2005 — Katie Cotta, Linden P-DH
2004 — Anjelica Selden, Travis AFB Vanden P
2003 — Lisa Dodd, San Diego University City P-DH
2002 — Alicia Hollowell, Fairfield P
2001 — Marissa Marzan, Fresno Bullard P
2000 — Jamie Southern, Clovis, P-INF
1999 — Andrea Vidlund, Orangevale Casa Roble, P
1998 — Amanda Freed, Garden Grove Pacifica, P
1997 — Amanda Freed, Garden Grove Pacifica, P
1996 — Amanda Scott, Clovis P
1995 — Courtney Dale, Fresno Bullard P (Jr.)
1994 — Sara Griffin, Simi Valley P
1993 — Sara Griffin, Simi Valley P
1992 — Leah O’Brien, Chino Don Lugo P
1991 — Jennifer Brundage, Irvine P
1990 — Karen Jackson, Roseville P
1989 — Lisa Fernandez, Lakewood St. Joseph P
1988 — Michele Granger, Placentia Valencia P
1987 — Michele Granger, Placentia Valencia P
1986 — Michele Granger, Placentia Valencia P
1985 — Jackie Oakley, Huntington Beach Ocean View P
1984 — Samantha Ford, Newhall Hart P
1983 — Shawn Andaya, Lodi P
1982 — Kandy Foust, Santa Maria Righetti P
1981 — Tracy Compton, Santa Maria Righetti P
1980 — Tracy Compton, Santa Maria Righetti P
1979 — Mary Lou Ramm, Chula Vista Hilltop P
1978 — Teri Young, El Segundo P
1977 — Karen Andrews, San Diego Henry P
1976 — Jan Jeffers, Lompoc P
1975 — Barbara Reinalda, Cerritos Valley Christian P
1974 — Barbara Reinalda, Cerritos Valley Christian P