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Bates commits to play softball at the University of Washington
A freshman at Ceres High School, Nicole Bates will make her debut with the Bulldogs' varsity softball team this spring.

Nicole made a verbal commitment to continue her playing career and education at the University of Washington on Monday, Sept. 24.

Bates will graduate from Ceres High School in 2016.

"It's a dream come true," said Nicole, a standout hitter and infielder. "My parents, coaches and teammates helped make this possible."

"It's hard to believe," father John Bates said. "I still get chills thinking about it. I kind of wondered if she was a big fish in a small pond. She's just a big fish. She's always been special. I couldn't imagine being her."

Nicole announced her college plans while hanging out at travel ball coach Mike Baisdon's house.

Baisdon's wife Donna, Nicole's mother Michelle Hedden and step-mom Shannon Bates, and teammate Sabrina Baisdon were also present. John listened via speaker phone from work.

"Washington can't initiate contact with her," said Mike Baisdon, Bates' coach for the past five years. "I've been communicating with their coaches. It's been an on-going process for the last eight months."

Bates watched the Huskies play on television for the first time in 2009. Washington claimed its first and only national title that year.

"We did our research on the school and coaches," John said. "It just wasn't softball. Washington ranks No. 10 in the nation in pre-med. Nicole wants to be a pediatrician. I feel comfortable sending my daughter there for four years."

Bates batted 6-for-7 from the plate with three triples and six steals in four games while attending a two-day camp in Seattle in August.

She also went to a Huskies clinic in Stockton.

"She was holding her own," John said.

A standout in softball since taking up the sport, Bates made a name for herself the last two years.

Nicole helped lead Ceres-based Tri County Smash travel softball teams to back-to-back fifth-place finishes at Nationals.

The Tri County 14s won seven of nine games at the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship in Huntington Beach in August.

The Smash 12s compiled a 49-3 record in 2011.

Bates and her teammates competed in front of more than a dozen NCAA Division-I softball coaches. Washington, UCLA, Cal, Georgia and Purdue were among the schools with representatives.

Coach Baisdon and eight of his Smash players, including Nicole, joined the NorCal Firecrackers organization after Nationals.

Based out of Huntington Beach, NorCal fields teams in California, Utah, Arizona and Texas.

"If it weren't for our parents and coaches, we wouldn't be as successful as we are today," Nicole said. "They're really competitive."

Bates played t-ball at the age of four with older brother Jimmy. He plays varsity basketball and baseball for Ceres High.

A three-sport star at Mae Hensley Jr. High, Nicole will be in the running for the Bulldogs' best all-round athlete award each year.

Softball is Nicole's first love but she also enjoys playing basketball and volleyball.

She performs at a high level in the classroom as well.

Bates earned a grade-point average of 3.8 her eighth-grade year.

Nicole will receive a scholarship package of $130,000 from Washington.

"She's one of the first to verbal from the class of 2016," Baisdon said. "It's absolutely amazing. She's worked really hard. The whole group I have is pretty special. We're going to see more of this before they step on a high-school field."

"This is a big deal," John said. "I want her to get recognition. She deserves it. She has exceptional God-given talent. But that only gets you so far. She's always put the extra work in."

"I love playing softball," Nicole said. "I don't get tired at all."