Nicole Bates, Callie Nunes, Mahlena O'Neal and Sabrina Baisdon reached the pinnacle of their sport together this past spring as Ceres High's varsity softball program captured the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III crown.
Bates, O'Neal, Baisdon and Nunes represented different travel teams at the Premier Girls Fastpitch 18-and-under National Championships, July 23-29, in Huntington Beach.
"The competition is so much different here," said Nunes, a standout pitcher with NorCal Batbusters-Gomes. "Being able to play against stacked teams, it's a huge obstacle to overcome. I still expected us to be in the finals. It didn't happen."
Bates and Huntington Beach-based Firecrackers-Rico edged California Cruisers-Sievers 2-0 in the Premier Division title game on Friday.
"We've been working for this for three years," Nicole said. "We finally did it. It's a dream come true."
Bates accounted for two of her team's three hits while batting leadoff and playing shortstop.
She singled, moved to second on a bunt, stole third and scored on a throwing error in the bottom of the first inning.
The game was televised on ESPNU.
"I'm happy Sis (Nicole) made it to the finals and won," Nunes said. "Watching her celebrate made me happy."
Added Baisdon: "I watched it on my phone. They have a great team. I wanted her to win. I'm so happy she did. I'm so proud of her. She's one of the nicest people I know."
Firecrackers-Rico won all seven of its games.
"We played as a unit and for one another," Nicole said.
Bates and Nunes faced off on July 26.
Firecrackers-Rico posted a 5-2 win over NorCal Batbusters-Gomes in the A-bracket.
"It's always great seeing her play whether she's on my team or not," Nunes said. "She's constantly talking and picking up her teammates. She's a fun player to watch. We had different schedules so I didn't get to talk to her. I saw her watching our last game."
Said Bates: "Callie and I really bonded this year. We got close. It was weird seeing her in a different uniform and competing against her."
NorCal Batbusters-Gomes compiled a 2-2 record in bracket play.
Nunes helped lead her team past 2015 PGF national champion OC Batbusters-Stith (4-0) on Wednesday and Mizuno Hawks (7-0) on July 25.
NorCal Batbusters-Gomes lost to Sorcerer (2-1) on Wednesday and Firecrackers-Rico (5-2) on July 26.
Defensively, we played really well," Nunes said. "Offensively, we struggled. We didn't get timely hits. I could have pitched better. Overall, we played fairly decent."
Mahlena (catcher) and Sabrina (outfielder) helped lead NorCal Firecrackers-Baisdon to a 13th-place finish.
Fircrackers-Baisdon won three of five games in the Premier B-bracket.
"I'm happy with the way we performed," Sabrina said. "We did great. I went out there and gave it my all. I have no regrets."
Firecrackers-Baisdon collected wins against Pennsylvania Chaos Gold (1-0) and Rhode Island Thunder Gold (3-2) on July 27, and California Raiders Gold (5-4) on July 26.
Firecrackers-Baisdon lost to the Beverly Bandits (3-2) on July 27 and Texas Blaze Gold (1-0) on July 26.
The Beverly Bandits eliminated Firecrackers-Baisdon from the tournament.
"Knowing it was possibly my last game and final time playing together with Mahlena made me cry a lot," Sabrina said. "I was very emotional."
Bates, O'Neal and Baisdon graduated from Ceres High in June.
Nicole and Mahlena will continue their playing careers at Washington and Georgia, respectively.
Sabrina plans to focus on academics at Fresno State.
"I don't want to give up softball yet," Baisdon said. "It's been my life. I'm thinking about trying out for the team."
Added Nunes: "Knowing that none of them are coming back next year is really sad."