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Recent CHS grad Bates shines on big stage
Ceres Nicole Bates played in the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship and PGF High School All-American games on July 29 in Irvine. Bates is pictured with head coach Tony Rico of the Firecrackers 18-and-under travel softball team. Nicole suited up for Firecrackers-Rico for the final time. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Recent Ceres High grad Nicole Bates celebrated twice at Bill Barber Park on July 29 in Irvine.

Bates and the Huntington Beach-based Firecrackers-Rico 18-and-under travel softball team captured the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship.

Nicole was also on the winning side during the First-Annual PGF High School All-American Game.

"It was amazing being able to play in both of those games," Bates said. "It was a little exhausting. But it was so much fun."

Competing in the Premier Division, Firecrackers-Rico edged California Cruisers-Sievers 2-0 for the National crown at Deanna Manning Stadium.

"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.

She singled, moved to second on Kaija Gibson's bunt, stole third and scored on a throwing error in the bottom of the first inning.

Nicole found herself at the bottom of a dogpile during the postgame celebration.

Minutes late, she fought back tears while hugging head coach Tony Rico.

"Our infield coach passed away this year," Bates said. "We were playing for Norm. That's why I got emotional."

Bates and the West edged the East 4-3 in seven innings during the All-American game.

Nicole singled twice and scored once.

She singled, stole second, advanced to third on Jenna Holcomb's groundout and raced home on Aaliyah Jordan's long fly out to center field to open the scoring in the first inning.

"It was a lot of fun competing with and against girls with such great talent," Bates said.

Bates batted leadoff and played shortstop during both games, which were televised on ESPNU.

"I watched her play on TV," said Callie Nunes, Bates' teammate at Ceres High for the past two seasons. "She did awesome. I'm so happy for her."

Bates signed softballs and programs for fans.

She also posed for pictures.

"When I was younger, I got autographs from (former USA softball members) Jessica Mendoza, Jennie Finch and Dot Richardson," Nicole said. "I looked up to those people so much. I wanted to be like them. It's kind of cool to be on the other side of that."

Bates, Ceres' most decorated softball player, added to her already-impressive resume.

Nicole helped lead Ceres High's softball team to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III crown this past spring in Sacramento. The two-time FloSoftball First-Team All-American was named Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball State Player of the Year in July.

Nicole and 10 other top players from across the nation were named to the Louisville Slugger Hit Club, which gathered in Huntington Beach for three days of instruction and fun activities, July 30 to Aug. 1.

Bates will continue her softball career at the University of Washington.