A year ago at this time, Nicole Bates was a senior at Ceres High School.
She filled a major role as the Bulldogs' varsity softball program claimed the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III crown last May.
Bates and the Firecrackers-Rico 18-and-under travel team captured the PGF Premier Division National Championship in July.
Accustomed to winning at the highest levels, Nicole's run of success continued this past week as the University of Washington punched its ticket to the NCAA Division-I Women's College World Series.
Bates walked once during the sixth-seeded Huskies' 2-1 win over the No. 11 Utah Utes in the decisive game of their best-of-three Super Regional series Sunday evening in Seattle.
The contest was televised on ESPN2.
"This is what she's worked for," said John Bates, Nicole's father. "As a parent, you never dream of this stuff. On the outside looking in, I know how special and crazy of a ride this has been. It's still hard to believe. I remember her playing Ceres Youth Baseball."
"It's pretty exciting," said Mike Baisdon, Nicole's travel coach with the NorCal Firecrackers and Tri-County Smash organizations. "To see her on TV, it's a little surreal. It's emotional rewarding from a coach's standpoint. She's reaping the rewards for her hard work."
Bates, Washington's starting second baseman, batted .333 from the plate with one double, three runs and three walks versus Utah last week.
"Coming from a small town like Ceres, I love seeing athletes from here succeed," said Sabrina Baisdon, Nicole's teammate in high school, travel ball and recreational play. "She's playing on TV, doing big things. When faced with a big opportunity or new experience, I know she's going to step up. She's always been really good, competitive and hard working."
Bates earned a starting role in Washington's lineup as a true freshman.
"There's good talent on that team," John said. "For her to start as a freshman is amazing. I didn't expect it. But it didn't surprise me. She's worked so hard."
"She has a great coaching staff," Mike said. "She's being mentored well."
Bates' teammates have been impressed by her focus and maturity.
"She (Nicole) doesn't really play like a freshman," Washington All-American senior shortstop Ali Aguilar said. "She competes. She's 100 percent there in all aspects. We can talk to her about this or that. She understands quickly. It's not like I have to be there babying her every step of the way. She blends in really well with the team. She deserves to be in the starting lineup."
"It's been awesome learning from Ali," Nicole said. "She's such a mentor for me. Every day at practice, extra work on the field, in the weight room, I learned so much from Ali. I'm so thankful I've had her here with me this year."
Bates became a fan of Washington during its run to the 2009 National Championship.
She was destined to play softball for the Huskies.
Nicole made a verbal commitment with Washington when she was in the ninth grade.
"It's not a dream to her," John said. "It's what was supposed to happen. When I asked her during the recruiting process what her No. 2 school was, she said, ‘I don't even want to think about that.' I really don't know how to put it into words. Every time I think about it, I get chills."
"It doesn't surprise me one bit," Mike said while talking about Nicole's success. "She's amazingly talented. At a very young age, we knew her ability was pretty special. She's one of those players you wish you can have 10 of them. She's hard working and loves the game. She's a game-changer. She's a great kid on top of that."
Eight teams have qualified for the College World Series, including Washington, Oregon, Oklahoma, Baylor, Florida, Texas A&M, UCLA and LSU.
Bates and the Huskies will face the third-seeded Oregon Ducks (52-6) on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Nicole will win her third major title in softball if Washington claims the national crown in Oklahoma City.
"A trifecta like that would be incredible," Mike said.
"That would be awesome," John said.