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CHS grads Bates, ONeal to play in Super Regionals
Ceres High grad Nicole Bates helped lead the University of Washington softball team to a first-place finish at the Seattle Regional of the NCAA Division-I Championship Tournament this past week. - photo by Photo courtesy of UW Athletics

Nicole "Sis" Bates' and Mahlena O'Neal's respective college softball teams advanced to the Super Regionals of the NCAA Division-I Championship Tournament this past week.

Bates and O'Neal played prep, travel and youth softball together.

Nicole and Mahlena graduated from Ceres High in 2016.

"I'm super proud of both of them," said Mike Baisdon, who coached Bates and O'Neal when they suited up for the NorCal Firecrackers and Tri-County Smash organizations. "We were very fortunate to have two amazing players. They're different from each other, body-type wise, but so alike in ability. They're very talented. They're tremendous athletes. They work extremely hard. They're team players. That's another thing that's special about them. I was fortunate to spend almost every day with those girls while they were growing up."

Bates and fifth-seeded Washington won all three of their games at the Seattle Regional.

The Huskies notched victories against Minnesota (5-2), Texas (2-1) and Boise State (8-0).

"I'm very happy for Sis," Mahlena said. "She's been playing amazing."

O'Neal and seventh-seeded Georgia compiled a perfect 3-0 record at the Athens Regional.

The Bulldogs beat Northwestern twice (9-7, 12-0) and Harvard once (6-2).

"I'm very pleased with my team," Mahlena said. "We were picked to be upset. That gave us some motivation. We proved everybody wrong."

Nicole, a sophomore shortstop, was selected to the All-Seattle Regional Team.

She batted .444 from the plate (4-for-9) with one double, one RBI, three runs and one stolen base.

She committed no errors on defense.

"There are certain things you can't teach," Baisdon said. "Nicole's softball IQ is off the charts. The bigger the game gets, the bigger she is. She plays like she's 10-feet tall."

Mahlena, a sophomore catcher, collected one double, four RBIs, one run and two walks.

"Catcher is a brutal position," Baisdon said. "It takes concentration. The blocking. The impact it takes on your knees. Your arms take a beating. It takes a lot out of you. Mahlena does an amazing job. She keeps her pitchers' minds straight. She's calm under pressure."

"Defense is my favorite part of the game," O'Neal said. "I have to know the different personalities of each pitcher. They're motivated differently."

O'Neal and Georgia (46-11) will host 10th-seeded Tennessee late this week.

The best-of-three series will be played at Jack Turner Softball Stadium.

The Bulldogs compiled a 2-1 record versus the Volunteers during the regular season.

"I'm very confident in our team," O'Neal said. "We're going to scrap, fight and try to find a way to win again. It's not going to be easy."

Bates and the Huskies (47-8) will host 12th-seeded Alabama (36-8).

Washington defeated Alabama twice (4-1, 8-0) at the Husky Classic in March.

The Huskies have won 15 of 18 games at home this year.

Washington claimed Regional and Super Regional titles en route to advancing to the Women's College World Series (WCWS) this past spring.

Georgia had its 2017 season cut short following a 2-2 showing at the Tallahassee Regional.

"I'm contributing more this year," said O'Neal, who missed parts of her freshman season with a broken finger and a knee injury. "Having a bigger role has been really fun. I just want to do whatever I can to help my team."

"Mahlena is a very strong individual," Baisdon said. "I never doubt her."

Bates and O'Neal helped lead Ceres High to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III championship in 2016. The Bulldogs piled up 85 victories, captured three Western Athletic Conference titles and participated in the playoffs four times during Nicole's and Mahlena's four years with the team.

Family members, friends and former coaches will travel to Oklahoma City if Washington and Georgia both advance to the WCWS.

"I would book my flight right away," Baisdon said.

Added O'Neal: "That would be awesome if that happened."

Mahlena and Nicole have played in a combined 112 games this season as Division-I student-athletes.

"It's really exhausting," O'Neal stated. "It's the hardest thing. I'm sure Sis would say the same thing. But it's worth it."

"I'm happy for them," Baisdon said. "They've dreamed of this since they were little. All of their hard work paid off."