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Bulldogs confident
Ceres High School's varsity softball team has a tradition of excellence to live up to every year.

"Everybody expects Ceres to win and go to the playoffs," head coach Donnie Donaldson said. "We definitely have the talent to start a new streak."

The Bulldogs had their string of consecutive CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoff appearances snapped at 24 seasons in 2010. Ceres High compiled a 17-9-1 record and tied for third place with Sierra in the Valley Oak League standings. The Timberwolves were awarded the conference's final playoff berth because of their 2-0 mark against the Bulldogs.

Veterans Kaycee Creek, Ryan Norton, Cierra Hammons, Jessica Ellsworth and Taiylor Sakurada will all play key roles during Ceres High's quest for redemption.

Creek (P, Jr.) and Norton (CF, Sr.) received first-team, all-conference honors for the second straight year last season.

Kaycee ranked first in shutouts (5), and second in wins (9), complete games (11) and strikeouts (64) while starring at pitcher.

She was also a major contribute on offense. Creek led the VOL in doubles (7), and ranked second in triples (4), third in RBIs (23), fifth in hits (23), seventh in slugging percentage (.760), ninth in runs (12), 11th in batting average (.460) and 13th in on-base percentage (.491).

Ryan batted .500 (30-for-60) from the plate with two triples, two doubles, 21 runs, nine RBIs, five stolen bases and a .508 on-base percentage.

Cierra (C, Jr.), made the VOL second team. She batted .457 (21-for-46) with one triple, one double, 11 RBIs, eight runs, three stolen bases and a .500 on-base percentage. Hammons had a 1.000 fielding percentage.

Jessica (3B, Jr.) was selected to the all-defensive team. She had 40 putouts, 13 assists and four errors. She batted .333 (16-for-48) with one homer, one triple, one double, 12 RBIs and nine runs.

Taiylor (SS, Jr.) batted .279 with three doubles, 14 singles, 10 runs and three RBIs.

Other players expected to contribute to the team include Alexis Cummings (1B, Jr.), Savannah Pritchett (1B/DH, Jr.), Samantha Simms (OF/C, Jr.), Camrynn Broumas (IF/UTL, Fr.) and Nicolette Mendes (OF, Fr.).

Cummings, Pritchett and Simms played for the JV Bulldogs last season.

Broumas and Mendes were eighth-graders.

Jode Johnson's leadership, production on offense and stellar play at shortstop will be sorely missed. The 2010 Ceres High grad was voted VOL MVP as a junior. She won the conference's Offensive Player of the Year award during her final season with the Bulldogs. Johnson earned a scholarship to NAIA Division II William Jessup University.

"She was incredible," Donaldson said. "She had speed, power and athleticism. You put pressure on her and that's when she performed the best. You can't replace her."

The Bulldogs will compete in the Western Athletic Conference this year. Ceres High will face Central Valley, Central Catholic, Livingston, Patterson and Los Banos. The Bulldogs have never lost to the crosstown Hawks in eight meetings.

Ceres High posted a combined record of 60-38-2 (41-17 in league), qualified for the playoffs three times and finished runner-up in the VOL standings twice under Donaldson's guidance the past four seasons.

The Bulldogs appeared headed for their 25th straight postseason berth in 2010 before suffering a stunning collapse. Ceres High ended the year with back-to-back losses.

"We all thought we were going to the playoffs last year," Norton said. "We were crushed when we didn't make it. We felt like we let our school down. We want to start a new streak this year."

The top three teams in the WAC qualify for the postseason. Patterson placed first in league last season.

Los Banos claimed the Central California Conference crown.

"It was bound to happen sooner or later," Donaldson said while talking about Ceres High's historical run. "I feel so much less pressure this year."