Nicole Bates will remember the experience for the rest of her life.
The recent Ceres High grad capped off her summer with a three-day outing in Southern California as a member of the class of 2016 Louisville Slugger Hit Club.
Bates visited Disneyland, attended a Los Angeles Angels game, spent time at Newport Beach, received tips from a former Olympic gold medalist, met a renowned player and coach and was honored at the opening ceremony of the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships.
"It was an amazing experience," Nicole said. "It was nice to get to know girls I've been competing against for so long. They were amazing."
Bates and 10 of the nation's top softball players from this past spring worked in the batting cages under the guidance of 2004 Olympic gold medalist Amanda Freed at the Pure Fastpitch facility on Aug. 1.
On July 31, Bates and Co. hung out at Newport Beach with 2015 Hit Club members Shay Knighten (Oklahoma) and Amanda Lorenz (Florida).
Sue Enquist, who captured 11 national titles at UCLA, was a guest speaker on July 30.
"The most enjoyable part was listening to the speakers," Bates said. "They were passionate about everything they talked about. They were so empowering."
Bates was named Most Valuable Player of the Louisville Slugger Hit Club.
"It's an honor to get that recognition," said Nicole, who will continue her softball career at the University of Washington.
Bates had a storied four-year career at Ceres High. The standout hitter/shortstop filled a major role while leading the Bulldogs to 85 victories, one section championship, three Western Athletic Conference titles and four Sac-Joaquin Section playoff appearances from 2013-16.
Nicole was named Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball State Player of the Year. She also earned FloSoftball First-Team All-American honors twice.
Bates and the Firecrackers-Rico 18-and-undrer travel softball team won the PGF National Championship on July 29. She was also on the winning side during the First Annual PGF High School All-American Game that same day. The West posted a 4-3 win over the East.
"Hard work eventually pays off," she said.