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Selflessness key for Dawgs
Jimmy Bates played a key role as Ceres Highs varsity baseball team made history this year by capturing its first league title since 1991. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Ceres High varsity baseball head coach John Bussard finally revealed what WTW stood for.

"Will to win," Bussard said following the Bulldogs' 9-6 loss to Sierra in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV playoffs on May 15 at Tony Zupo Field in Lodi. "It's a mantra we lived by all year. It became our rallying cry."

Ceres High posted a 23-7 overall record, captured its first league title since 1991 and advanced to the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

The Bulldogs and eight-time champion Central Catholic tied for first atop the Western Athletic Conference standings (11-1).

"We knew we'd be in the hunt for a playoff spot," Bussard said. "To roll through league again like we did was surprising. Very few people foresaw this happening. We've done something that hasn't been done at Ceres High in almost 25 years. Hopefully, this team has set an example for all of the sports teams we have on campus. If you unify and work hard, you can accomplish any goal. We had more talent last year. But talent alone is not enough."

Central Catholic won the WAC title outright the previous seven seasons.

The Raiders will compete in the Valley Oak League beginning next year.

"That was one of our biggest goals," junior standout pitcher/infielder Brad Bussard said. "We didn't want them leaving with sole possession of first place this year. Ceres High is going to be the team that wins the WAC over and over again. We're the new CC. People are going to be gunning for us. We don't want to give up that top spot."

"It means a lot," senior star pitcher/infielder Alan Marquez added. "Central Catholic has always beaten us. They've made us look bad."

Ceres High relied on a host of players this year, including veterans Brad Bussard, Brent Bussard, Brett Conway and Jimmy Bates.

Brad, Brent and Brett were promoted to the varsity level as freshmen. Jimmy was a sophomore.

"Two years ago, myself and (assistant coach) Rudy Conway made the decision to make a youth movement and go with younger kids," coach Bussard said. "There's a variety of reasons why we did it. It's possible to rebuild and compete at the same time. It wasn't a popular decision. It rubbed people the wrong way. As a coach, it's impossible to make people happy. You got to take emotion out of it. Ultimately, your job is to win."

Brad, Brent, Brett and Jimmy helped guide the Bulldogs to a combined record of 61-24-1 overall record, one conference title and three postseason appearances from 2012-14.

"Every year, people doubted us," Brad Bussard said.
"There were a lot of naysayers," John Bussard said. "We improved our win total every year with those kids. Every one of those kids put their stamp on this baseball program. Everyone single one of those kids made all league. It validates what we were doing."

Ceres High displayed its team slogan-WTW-on its old scoreboard while facing Central Catholic during the final week of the WAC season.

Coach Conway used the phrase, "will to win," for the first time while talking to his players during the Bulldogs' 3-2 extra-inning win over East Union in non-conference play on March 21 in Ceres.

"That was our motto every single game," Alan said. "No one messed around at practice. We were focused. There were no distractions. We had that drive to win. Everyone pitched in. We were unified on and off the field. We're a family."

"That's what fueled the team," Brad said. "No one thought we were going to have this great of a year. We worked together. We didn't worry about stats. All we cared about was winning."

"This is by far the most satisfying year I've ever had," coach Bussard said. "As far as pure physical talent, I've had better teams. This year's team had the entire package. They're a good group of young men. They come over to my house all the time. They're like part of my family. My front door is open to every single one of them. I hope they come to me when they're 21 and I'm the guy that buys them their first beer."