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Ceres High thrives despite coaching, roster changes
Shelby Veuve (16) exchanges high fives with Ceres High head coach Ashley Nicolich and Bulldog teammate Andrea Duran during their first-round playoff matchup versus visiting Beyer on May 16. The Bulldogs won by shutout, 4-0. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Ceres High's varsity softball program enjoyed silencing doubters this season.

The Bulldogs extended a pair of streaks despite competing under the direction of a new coaching staff and with a revamped roster.

Ceres High secured its sixth straight Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth and fourth consecutive Western Athletic Conference championship.

"I definitely feel like we proved a lot of people wrong," Bulldogs' senior third baseman Rayohna Sagapolu said. "I'm not surprised. We have a lot of talent on the team."

"I had very high expectations and the girls met them," first-year leader Ashley Nicolich said. "I loved coaching this group. They were easy to get along with. They held each other accountable."

Ceres High won one of two games en route to a top-eight finish in the Division-III playoffs.

Third-seeded Ceres High lost, 3-0, to sixth-seeded Vista del Lago in extra innings during their quarterfinal matchup on Thursday in Ceres.

The game was delayed for 30 minutes in the final inning after Bulldog infielder Andrea Duran collided with an Eagles' baserunner while covering first base on a bunt.

Duran was taken by ambulance to Memorial Medical Center.

"She's okay," Nicolich said. "There are no broken bones. She has a really bad bruise on her hip."

"We could have won that game if our teammate didn't get hurt," Sagapolu stated. "After that happened, nobody was smiling. It was pretty stressful. It was a horrible way to end the season. We wanted to finish strong. I thought we could have made it to the section finals."

Added Nicolich: "That got to everybody."

Callie Nunes tallied 16 strikeouts during her final start at pitcher for Ceres High.

The Bulldogs batted 7-for-31 on offense with nine strikeouts.

Junior Shelby Veuve collected one double and two singles.

Sagapolu singled twice.

Nunes and sophomore Priscilla Chavez both singled.

Ceres High shut out 14th-seeded Beyer 4-0 in the first round on May 16.

Nunes surrendered just one hit and tallied 15 strikeouts in seven innings.

Callie batted 2-for-2 from the plate with one double and one run.

Veuve batted 1-for-3 with one run and one walk.

Freshman Vianney Perez collected one RBI.

Freshman Rebecca DeLeon and sophomore Hannah Brown both scored once.

Sophomore Branda Villalpando singled twice.

Sagapolu walked three times.

Ceres High continued its winning tradition.

The Bulldogs compiled a 20-9 overall record.

Ceres High (9-1) finished in first place in the Western Athletic Conference for the fourth year in a row. The Bulldogs reeled off eight straight victories in league play.

Ceres High has made 30 postseason appearances in the past 32 years.

"They have nothing to hang their heads about," Nicolich said. "They should be proud of themselves. We performed higher than what anyone expected. I knew with Callie pitching we would have a good season. She did amazing. The other girls stepped up, too."

Sagapolu and Nunes will graduate in June.

Rayohna and Callie played for the Bulldogs for a combined seven seasons.

Sagapolu and Nunes will continue their softball careers at San Jose State and Concordia University, respectively.

"I'm definitely going to miss the seniors," Nicolich said. "There was not one game they didn't perform. They helped carry on the tradition."