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Talent-rich CHS tops Nickles-led Bears
Future college players propel Dawgs to victory
Junior Rayohna Sagapolu starred at pitcher during Ceres Highs 4-0 win over Merced on March 1. Sagapolu, who recently made a verbal commitment to San Jose State, allowed just one hit. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Ceres High School's varsity softball team finally beat UCLA-bound Madilyn Nickles and Merced in non-conference play this past week.

The Bulldogs ended a three-year losing streak against Nickles and the Bears with a 4-0 win on March 1 in Ceres.

Madilyn played with the USA Junior National Team during the summertime.

Nickles was Central California Conference MVP her junior and sophomore years.

She helped guide Merced to its fifth straight CCC crown last spring.

"The girls were looking forward to the game," Ceres High head coach Angela Durossette said. "They knew Madi was going to throw. They've seen her before. I knew if we could hit her, it wouldn't be a close game. We put the ball in play and made them make mistakes. Our experience was a plus for us. They have a young team."

The Bulldogs' talent-filled roster boasts three future NCAA Division-I players in Nicole Bates (University of Washington), Mahlena O'Neal (University of Georgia) and Rayohna Sagapolu (San Jose State).

Sagapolu allowed one hit with two strikeouts and one walk while tossing a complete-game shutout versus Merced.

The Bears posted a team-batting average of .050.
Nickles had three flyouts.

"She's probably the most powerful hitter I'll face this year," Sagapolu said. "I had to focus on my pitches. I threw low and outside pitches so she could pop up. Thankfully, she did."

"She (Rayohna) didn't surprise me," O'Neal said. "She was successful because she hit her spots. You can never tell what Ray's feeling. Her happy face is her nervous face. And her nervous face is her regular face. She's funny. She's a great teammate."

Sagapolu collected one RBI and one run while batting second in Ceres High's lineup.

"I'm not surprised," Durossette said. "She's naturally talented. She's athletic. She's strong. She can move."

"I just tried to make contact," Sagapolu said. "Madi is like (former Pacheco standout Gia Rodoni). Her ball goes up and shoots down. She's a great pitcher."

O'Neal, Ceres High's No. 3 hitter and catcher, batted 2-for-3 with a pair of singles.

"With Bubba, that's Madi's nickname, we love playing her because it's a challenge," O'Neal said. "The biggest difference this year is confidence. We came out with more swag. We were intimidated before."

Bates, Ceres High's leadoff hitter and shortstop, singled and scored once.

The Bulldogs collected four hits, struck out 11 times and walked twice against Nickles.

Ceres High scored all of its runs, one earned, in the bottom of the third inning.

Nickles tallied 18 strikeouts in a 7-6 victory over Los Banos in 11 innings on Feb. 29.

"She throws the ball hard," Durossette said. "She was probably a little tired."

Merced rallied for a 6-4 victory over Ceres High last year.

"We were ahead 4-0 until the sixth inning," Durossette said. "Once they got the lead, they put her (Nickles) in."

Ceres High should be the overwhelming favorite to win its third straight Western Athletic Conference title this spring.

The Bulldogs hope to accomplish even more by winning a Sac-Joaquin Section championship.

"It is intimidating playing us," Durossette said. "That's a good thing."