Ceres High softball standout Callie Nunes finalized her college plans last Wednesday when she signed a national letter of intent with Concordia University at Rainbow Fields Sports Complex in Modesto.
"I've always wanted to play collegiate softball," said Nunes, a 112-pound pitcher. "Being able to officially sign was an unbelievable experience. It takes a lot of pressure off. It sparks curiosity of what's ahead. I've absolutely exceeded my expectations for myself."
Nunes made a non-binding verbal commitment to play softball for NCAA Division-II Concordia University when she was a sophomore at Ceres High.
Callie took her official visit to the private Christian university in Irvine this past month.
"I had offers from bigger schools," Nunes said. "When I walked on Concordia's campus, I loved it. I just saw myself living there for the next four years. It just felt right. I'd love to start. But I'm not the coach. If I earn it, I'll get it. If I don't, I won't."
Callie was surrounded by family, friends, coaches and teammates when she celebrated her latest accomplishment at Jimmy Dyson's A League of Our Own Pitching School.
"It was really special," Nunes said.
Parents Bob and Shawna Nunes, longtime pitching coaches Jimmy Dyson and Phil de la Porte, and best friend/former teammate/Johansen catcher Marissa Wood attended the once-in-a-lifetime event.
Travel ball teammates Chardae Hoskins (Escalon) and Angelia Va'a (Johansen), and Ceres High classmates Chris Lubinsky, Marcellus Boykins, Conner Johnson, Aiden Moore, Clayton Elness, Blane Abeyta and Vinay Soni were there, too.
"Without my coaches and parents I wouldn't be where I'm at today," Callie said. "There are so many things that they've done for me. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to Jimmy for help. Uncle Phil does the workouts. He knows what's best for what pitcher. I put myself with the best people and competition, and that's how I've grown."
Nunes and Wood have been close friends since childhood.
Callie (Shiloh-Paradise) and Marissa (Calvary Temple) were in elementary school when their youth clubs faced off for the first time.
They've teamed up at the recreational and travel levels as well.
"We play for the same organization (Batbusters) but as of right now not the same coach," Nunes said. "She catches me after school. She knows what I'm doing right and wrong. We've been working together for seven years. She's my best friend. She's like a sister to me."
Callie helped lead Ceres High to its second Sac-Joaquin Section crown this past spring, ending a 21-year drought between titles.
"Everything came together last year," Nunes said. "I became a lot more focused. I was fortunate to have a solid team around me. Being a part of that team in general was incredible. It was an amazing experience."
Nunes and third-seeded Ceres High went 5-1 in the Division-III playoffs, beating Benicia twice, and Oakdale, Pioneer and American Canyon once.
Ceres High outlasted No. 5 Benicia 3-2 in the finals.
Benicia forced the winner-take-all contest with an 8-1 victory.
Ceres High won the first meeting between the two teams, 1-0, in 10 innings.
Callie matched a career high for strikeouts with 17 during Ceres High's 5-3 win over No. 2 Oakdale in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs lost twice to the Mustangs during the regular season.
"My arm hurt so bad the last day," Nunes said. "I had a bruise on my right forearm from pitching so much."
Longtime family friend Danielle de la Porte was the star pitcher on the Bulldogs' first-ever section championship team in 1995.
Callie was named after Danielle. Her middle name was selected by her mother. Shawna was Danielle's basketball coach at Ceres High.
"She's always someone I looked up to," Callie said. "Her mental game is always something I strived to have. That comes from her mom."
Nunes will try to guide the Bulldogs to their fourth consecutive Western Athletic Conference crown and sixth straight postseason berth this spring.
Ceres High will move forward with a revamped roster as five four-year players were lost to graduation, including Nicole Bates, Mahlena O'Neal, Sabrina Baisdon, Mackenzie Veuve and Jessica Arreola.
Bates (Washington) and O'Neal (Georgia) earned scholarships to Division-I colleges.
"Losing six seniors is definitely a big blow," Nunes said. "I honestly have no idea how we're going to do. I hope we can win another league title and go to playoffs again. That's what we'll be striving for. Being a pitcher, people are watching you. I'm excited to be a leader. I view myself as a team player. I love to be involved with my teammates."
Nunes compiled an impressive 20-3 record this past season with a 1.14 ERA, 239 strikeouts, two no-hitters and 10 shutouts.
She was named WAC Pitcher of the Year.
Callie ranked first in conference play in wins (10), earned-run average (0.22) and no-hitters (2), and second in strikeouts (114).
She received second-team all-conference accolades as a sophomore.
"My expectation is to always be better than my last outing," Nunes said.
Nunes developed into an elite pitcher thanks in large part to improved dedication.
"My work ethic has changed the most," Callie said. "I pitch 11 months out of the year. I get one month off. This is my fourth year doing that. It's been extremely challenging. There are days you don't want to practice. You're tired. Your muscles hurt. I push myself every pitch, practice and game. I work hard. My favorite thing is people telling me I can't do something. That gives me the incentive to prove them wrong."