Ceres High School's varsity softball team experienced a gamut of emotions at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Championships last week at Stockton's Arnaiz Stadium.
The Bulldogs won and lost once in the final inning and dropped one contest by the mercy rule on their way to a fourth-place finish.
Ceres High also took fourth in 2013 and 2012.
"It's a little frustrating," Bulldogs head coach Donnie Donaldson said. "Our expectations were definitely higher. We had a good team. You get tired doing the same thing year after year. We want to win a section championship bad."
Ceres High posted a 21-6 overall record and finished first in the Western Athletic Conference (12-0) this year. The Bulldogs lost twice to Oakdale, East Union and Merced.
"I don't have any regrets," Donaldson said. "Our team improved throughout the season. We were more focused and experienced. It showed in our record. We still have room to grow."
Ceres High rallied from a seven-run deficit before losing 8-7 to section runner-up East Union in the loser's bracket on May 16.
Tied at 7-7, Valley Oak League champion East Union plated the game-winning run in the final inning.
"It's a tough way to end the season," Donaldson said. "I'm so proud of the way the girls fought back. A lot of teams would have shut down."
Bulldog sophomore Mahlena O'Neal led the way on offense. She batted 3-for-3 from the plate with two homers, one double, four RBIs and two runs.
Freshman Rayohna Sagapolu batted 2-for-4 with one double and two RBIs.
Junior Ali Lowman batted 1-for-3 with one RBI.
Sophomore Jessica Arreola batted 1-for-2 with one run.
Sophomores Kaytlin Donaldson and Nicole Bates both batted 1-for-3 with one run.
Sophomore MacKenzie Veuve batted 1-for-4 with one run.
Junior Kinsey Ward scored one run.
Sagapolu and Donaldson pitched as well.
Rayohna gave up two runs and six hits with three strikeouts and three walks while logging five innings of relief.
Kaytlin allowed six runs and four hits with one strikeout and two walks in 12/3 innings.
Ceres High faced a 7-0 deficit at the end of the second inning.
The Bulldogs tallied four runs in the third inning, two in the fifth and one in the sixth.
"We had some opportunities to score more runs," coach Donaldson said.
Eventual section-champion Oakdale shut out Ceres High by the mercy rule, 11-0, in the second round on May 15.
The Bulldogs mustered just two hits on offense.
Sophomore Sabrina Baisdon singled.
"We did not have an answer for (Oakdale pitcher) Melinda Koppinger," Donnie Donaldson said. "She shut us out twice this year. That's not an easy thing to do with our lineup. I tip my hat to her."
Sagapolu surrendered seven runs and two hits with four strikeouts and six walks in 42/3 innings.
Donaldson yielded four runs and one hit with one strikeout and one walk in one-third of an inning of work.
Ahead 2-0, the Valley Oak League runner-up Mustangs scored nine times in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Ceres High edged Sierra Valley Conference runner-up Union Mine 2-1 in the opening round of the playoffs on May 15.
Veuve collected the game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Courtesy runner Mikayla Whatley scored from second base when Veuve laced a two-strike, walk-off single to center field with two outs.
"It was an amazing finish," coach Donaldson said. "We almost got knocked out of the tournament."
The Bulldogs totaled 10 hits versus the Diamondbacks.
Veuve batted 1-for-4 with two RBIs.
Arreola batted 1-for-2 with one run.
Sagapolu batted 2-for-3 with one double.
Bates and Camrynn Broumas both singled twice.
Baisdon and junior Megan McCormick chipped in with one single each.
"We could have scored eight or nine runs," Donnie Donaldson said.
Rayohna had one strikeout and one walk in 22/3 innings. She surrendered no runs and no hits.
Kaytlin struck out two and walked four in 41/3 innings. She gave up one run and one hit.
Ceres High, which returns the majority of its talent from this year's team next season, will contend for the section crown in 2015.
"Every season, we have higher expectations," Donaldson said. "We want to improve on what we did the year before."