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Tradition-rich CHS vying for its second section title in softball
Nicole Bates (pictured left), Callie Nunes and Ceres High have advanced to the championship game of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoff tournament. The Bulldogs will face the winner of today's Benicia/Vista del Lago game tomorrow at the Sacramento Softball Complex. The contest will get underway at 4:30 p.m. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Ceres High’s tradition of excellence in softball dates back to 1986.

The Bulldogs have won more than 600 games, qualified for the playoffs 29 times, captured 16 league titles and claimed one section championship over the past 31 years.

Third-seeded Ceres High will be vying for its second Sac-Joaquin Section crown when it faces the winner of today’s Benicia/Vista del Lago game this Thursday at the Sacramento Softball Complex.

Seventh-seeded Vista del Lago eliminated second-seeded Oakdale from the Division-III postseason tournament.

“We’re the team to beat,” Bulldogs head coach Angela Durossette said. “Everything is clicking for us. The momentum is in our favor. I expect it to be a good game. We expect to win. That’s our mindset. The girls are really focused.”

Ceres High (22-4) is peaking at the right time.

The Bulldogs have collected victories against No. 5 Benicia (1-0), No. 2 Oakdale (5-3), No. 6 Pioneer (11-1) and No. 14 American Canyon (10-0) in the playoffs.

Ceres High won its first two games by the mercy rule.

The Bulldogs avenged a pair of regular-season losses to Oakdale with a hard-fought victory on Monday. Washington signee Nicole Bates led the way on offense with two home runs. Concordia University commit/junior pitcher Callie Nunes matched a season high for strikeouts with 17.

Ceres High edged Benicia in 10 innings during their semifinal battle on Tuesday. Outfielder Jessica Arreola played the role of hero as she drove in the winning run. Sophomore second baseman Andrea Duran moved to third on Nunes’ sacrifice bunt and scored on Arreola’s single through the right side of the infield.

Just about every player on the team has contributed during the Bulldogs’ remarkable postseason run, including Bates, Nunes, Arreola, Duran, Sabrina Baisdon, Mahlena O’Neal, Mackenzie Veuve, Rayohna Sagapolu, Natalia Cortez, sophomore Shelby Veuve and freshman Hanna Brown.

“They’ve all rose to the occasion,” Durossette said.

Nunes has elevated her level of dominance on the mound.

A year removed from compiling an 11-7 record at pitcher, Callie has a 19-2 mark on the mound this season.

She racked up 49 strikeouts and surrendered just seven hits with a total pitch count of 341 in Ceres High’s first four playoff games.

The Bulldogs’ production on offense against top-notch competition has been just as impressive.

Ceres High amassed 27 runs and 44 hits in beating Benicia, Oakdale, Pioneer and American Canyon.

The Bulldogs committed just two errors on defense.

“We have everything now,” Durossette said. “Callie was the missing link. She helped us get to this point. We know what she’s doing for us. That’s a tough task. When she’s on, we’re very tough to beat. The other girls are good, too.”

Improved chemistry has been a key ingredient to Ceres High’s success in 2016.

Bulldog players bonded while vacationing in Hawaii during spring break.

Ceres High had a combined record of 4-6 in the playoffs the previous three seasons.

The Bulldogs won two of four games en route to a fifth-place finish in the D-III postseason tournament last season.

“The trip to Hawaii brought them closer together,” Durossette said. “They’ve been able to feed off each other.”

Ceres High also has a wealth of talent and experience on its roster.

The core of this year’s team has been playing together at the varsity level since the ninth grade.

Bates, Baisdon, Veuve and Georgia bound O’Neal have guided the Bulldogs to 84 wins, one section finals appearance, three Western Athletic Conference titles and four playoff berths.

Arreola, who was promoted from junior varsity midway through her freshman year, has filled a key role as well.

“They’ve worked hard all four years to win sections,” Durossette said. “This is the way they deserve to go out.”

This will be the fifth time the Bulldogs play for a section crown.

Ceres High made history when it claimed its first title 21 years ago in 1995.

The Bulldogs had to settle for runner-up honors in 1993, 1991 and 1989.

Ceres High will be crowned Division-III champs if it collects its 23rd win of the season on Thursday in Sacramento.

The game will get underway at 4:30 p.m.

The Bulldogs plan to put the finishing touches on a storybook season by bringing home a coveted blue section banner.

Ceres High coaches and players have been receiving text messages from well-wishers the past few days.

“The school is so excited for the girls,” Durossette said. “Everybody is supporting us. It’s been nice. We’re hoping for a fairytale ending.”