Nicole Bates and her Ceres High School varsity softball teammates knew what was at stake heading into Wednesday's game with Central Catholic.
The third-place Bulldogs needed to win to move within one game of the first-place Raiders in the Western Athletic Conference standings.
Central Catholic took control in the fourth inning and held on for a 6-3 victory over host Ceres High.
"We probably won't get first now," said Bates, one of seven underclassmen on this year's team. "I'm confident we'll make it to playoffs. I'm just hoping we'll get the second seed."
Second-place Los Banos (6-1) holds a one-and-a-half-game lead over 2012 WAC-champion Ceres High (5-3).
The Bulldogs have lost twice to the Raiders this season.
"This is revenge from last year when we beat them and took the championship from them," Ceres High head coach Donnie Donaldson said.
Bates batted 2-for-4 from the plate with one triple versus Central Catholic last week.
Mahlena O'Neal batted 2-for-3 with one double and one RBI.
Kaytlin Donaldson batted 1-for-3 with one RBI.
MacKenzie Veuve batted 1-for-4 with one RBI.
Laura Story batted 1-for-3 with one double.
Ceres High stranded five runners on base.
Donaldson started at pitcher for the Bulldogs.
She allowed five runs, scattered 12 hits and struck out two in 32/3 innings.
Veuve gave up one run and three hits with two strikeouts in 31/3 innings of relief.
Central Catholic sophomore Gia Rodoni tallied eight strikeouts while pitching a complete game. She surrendered three runs and seven hits.
"Gia is one of the best pitchers around," coach Donaldson said. "We're young in the circle."
Rodoni drove in a pair of runs and accounted for two of the Raiders' 15 hits on offense.
"Central Catholic's bats were hot today," Donnie Donaldson said. "They were able to score a lot of runs quick. We were pressing from the beginning."
Central Catholic jumped out to a 5-0 lead.
The Raiders scored four runs in the top of the fourth inning.
"We knew we had to win this game," Bates said. "We were a little intimidated in the beginning. There was pressure. They're good."
The Bulldogs tallied their first run in the bottom of the fourth inning. O'Neal plated Donaldson with a two-out double.
Down 6-1, Ceres High cut the deficit to three in the sixth inning as Veuve and O'Neal collected RBI singles. Facing a bases-loaded situation with one out, Rodoni retired Story and Dia Borden by strikeout.
"I had faith in us coming back," Bates said. "That competitiveness came out in the end."
Barring a major collapse by Central Catholic, Ceres High will fall short of its goal.
The Bulldogs wanted to defend their WAC crown.
"I'm frustrated because we lost," Bates said. "In the future, we'll perform better."
Added coach Donaldson: "They'll respond."