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CHS varsity softball standout Mahlena ONeal bound for Georgia
Catcher makes pledge to University of Georgia
Mahlena ONeal plans to play collegiate softball for the University of Georgia. ONeal, a standout catcher, will graduate from Ceres High School in 2016. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Just a sophomore, Mahlena O'Neal already has her future mapped out.

The Ceres High School standout softball player will remain a Bulldog.

O'Neal verbally committed to the University of Georgia, which has the same mascot as CHS, on July 22.

Mahlena plans to enroll at the Division-I school three years from now.

Because the offer is not binding, O'Neal or Georgia can back out of the commitment at any time.

"It's crazy," Mahlena said. "When I first started travel ball with Sizzle, I didn't think I'd be this good and take it to this level. My teammates made me better. I'm going to continue to work hard."

"It's awesome to see her reach her goal," said Elvira Maldonado, O'Neal's mother. "I played softball. I wasn't half as good as Mahlena."

O'Neal helped lead the NorCal Firecrackers 14-and-under travel softball team to a 13th-place finish at the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships and 35-6 overall record this summer.

She also experienced success with the Tri County Smash for three seasons.

The Smash finished fifth in 2012 and 2011, and third in 2010 at Nationals.

O'Neal relishes being a leader.

"I'm always involved in the play," Mahlena said. "There's never a dull moment."

"She's very intelligent when it comes to softball, working with our pitchers and talking to the defense," said Mike Baisdon, Mahlena's travel ball coach for the past five seasons. "She elevates the play of the other players when she's on the field. She never stops working on her game. She's really special."

"He (coach Baisdon) is everything to me," Mahlena said. "He pushed me and taught me so much stuff. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here. My dad (Derrick O'Neal) played a big part in this, too."

O'Neal starred on Ceres High's varsity softball team her freshman year.

Mahlena was selected to the Western Athletic Conference First team. O'Neal hit .585 with one homer, two triples, six doubles, 17 RBIs and seven runs as the Bulldogs took fourth at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV championships, finished 19-12 on the year and placed second (8-4) in the WAC standings.

"The ultimate goal is to win everything," Mahlena said while talking about her future with Ceres High. "I think we can do it with the team we have. "We're going to work hard and not give up."

Fellow Bulldog/Firecracker Nicole Bates made a verbal commitment to the University of Washington in September.
"We're both excited," O'Neal said. "When she found out I chose Georgia, we hugged and cried. We've always been the biggest competition for each other even when we were on different teams. We pushed each other. We're best friends. We're like sisters now."

Added Maldonado: "Mike's doing wonderful things with the girls."

O'Neal will take an unofficial visit to the University of Georgia in September.

She'll tour the campus, meet players and coaches and attend a football game.

"They have a great softball team," Mahlena said. "The academics are top-notch. It (education) is more important than athletics. I'll be well taken care of. It's pretty mind-blowing."

O'Neal will graduate from Ceres High School in 2016.
She still has three seasons of varsity softball to play.
Mahlena will continue to excel in the classroom as well. She had a cumulative grade-point average of 3.6 during the 2012-13 school year.

"I've always been a hard worker," said O'Neal, who also considered committing to UCLA, Cal and Oklahoma before choosing Georgia. "I practice outside of practice, too. You have rough moments. But that's when you have to dig deep. I love everything about it (softball)."

"She's worked so hard for this," Baisdon said. "She's an outstanding person. I'm really excited for her."