Family members, friends, and former coaches and teammates will be rooting for 2016 Ceres High grad Nicole Bates later this week when she plays in the NCAA Division-I Softball Championship Tournament.
Bates and sixth-seeded Washington (46-11) will host No. 11 Utah (36-14) in a best-of-three Super Regional at Husky Stadium.
“I talked with her,” said John Bates, Nicole’s father. “She’s happy. They’re two wins away from the World Series. She’s focused. This is what she’s worked for. As a parent, you never dream of this stuff. On the outside looking in, I know how special and crazy of a ride this has been. It’s still hard to believe. I remember her playing Ceres Youth Baseball.”
Older brother/2014 Ceres High grad Jimmy Bates sent out a Washington softball watch party event invite through Facebook for Saturday’s game, which will be televised on ESPN2 at 6 p.m.
Supporters will be gathering at Rico’s Pizza on Hatch Road.
“Jimmy’s driving up from Irvine to be there,” John said. “He’s her biggest fan. My parents and fiancée are going to be there. I have no idea who else is going to show up. Everybody is invited to come. It’s going to be fun.”
“Our team is playing that day,” said Mike Baisdon, Nicole’s travel coach with the NorCal Firecrackers and Tri-County Smash organizations. “We have a game in Tracy. I’m going to leave early so I can watch her. I don’t want to miss this. It’s pretty exciting. To see her on TV, it’s a little surreal. It’s emotionally rewarding from a coach’s standpoint. She’s reaping the rewards for her hard work.”
Bates, Washington’s starting second baseman, batted .429 from the plate with one double, two singles, two RBIs, one run and three walks as the Huskies placed first at the Seattle Regional this past weekend.
“It was so much fun,” Nicole said while talking about the experience of competing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. “My teammates have really helped me in feeling comfortable and adapting to that.”
“Coming from a small town like Ceres, I love seeing athletes from here succeed,” said Sabrina Baisdon, Nicole’s teammate in high school, travel ball and recreational play. “She’s playing on TV, doing big things. When faced with a big opportunity or new experience, I know she’s going to step up. She’s always been really good, competitive and hard working.”
Bates earned a starting role in Washington’s lineup as a true freshman.
“There’s good talent on that team,” John said. “For her to start as a freshman is amazing. I didn’t expect it. But it didn’t surprise me. She’s worked so hard.”
“She has a great coaching staff,” Mike said. “She’s being mentored well.”
Bates’ teammates have been impressed by her focus and maturity.
“She (Nicole) doesn’t really play like a freshman,” Washington All-American senior shortstop Ali Aguilar said. “She competes. She’s 100 percent there in all aspects. We can talk to her about this or that. She understands quickly. It’s not like I have to be there babying her every step of the way. She blends in really well with the team. She deserves to be in the starting lineup.”
“It’s been awesome learning from Ali,” Nicole said. “She’s such a mentor for me. Every day at practice, extra work on the field, in the weight room, I learned so much from Ali. I’m so thankful I’ve had her here with me this year.”
Bates became a fan of the Huskies during their run to the 2009 National Championship.
She was destined to play softball for Washington.
“It’s not a dream to her,” John said. “It’s what was supposed to happen. When I asked her during the recruiting process what her No. 2 school was, she said, ‘I don’t even want to think about that.’ I really don’t know how to put it into words. Every time I think about it, I get chills.”
“It doesn’t surprise me one bit,” Mike said while talking about Nicole’s success. “She’s amazingly talented. At a very young age, we knew her ability was pretty special. She’s one of those players you wish you can have 10 of them. She’s hard working and loves the game. She’s a game-changer. She’s a great kid on top of that.”
A year ago at this time, Nicole was a senior in high school.
She filled a major role as Ceres High claimed the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III crown.
Bates and the Huntington Beach-based Firecrackers-Rico 18-and-under travel softball team captured the PGF Premier Division National Championship during the summertime.
Bates could become a College World Series champ with Washington this spring.
“A trifecta like that would be incredible,” Mike said.
“That would be awesome,” John said.