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The Riverbank High varsity softball team lost 24 of 25 games under Mike Corsaut's guidance in 1998. In 2001, Corsaut led the Bruins to a second-place finish in the Trans-Valley League and into the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Corsaut joined the Ceres High coaching staff in 2002. He has helped the varsity Bulldogs continue their winning tradition.

"This is my fourth year coaching at Ceres High," Corsaut said "And I have enjoyed every single minute."

With Corsaut at the helm, Ceres has compiled a 68-16-2 record the last three seasons. The Bulldogs have won two league titles and made an appearance in the playoffs every year. In 2004, Ceres placed second in the Central California Conference at 14-4 and went 20-8 overall.

"Ceres has always had the reputation of putting the best product on the field," said Corsaut, who has posted a .791 winning percentage as Ceres' head coach. "That's going to continue."

Winning tradition

Ceres hasn't missed the playoffs in 19 years.

"Our first priority is to win league," Corsaut said. "And everything after that is icing on the cake."

If the Bulldogs place first in the Modesto Metro Conference, they'll secure a berth in the postseason.

"If we make it this year, it's 20 (straight years)," Corsaut said. "No other softball program in the area can say that."

Experienced lineup

Ceres returns six starters, including three seniors, Meghan Franksen, Heidi Eisenbeis and Heather Russell, and three juniors, Monica Hall, Jennifer Arnold and Jordan Nash.

"It's their team," Corsaut said. "They need to make sure they lead by example. I believe they will."

Franksen and Eisenbeis are four-year starters.

Franksen, a shortstop, and Eisenbeis, a second baseman, have impressive resumes.

Franksen earned first-team, all-league honors as a junior, sophomore and freshman.

Eisenbeis made the first-team last season and in 2002. She managed to earn honorable-mention honors during her sophomore year despite being slowed by a wrist injury.

As a junior, Eisenbeis hit .456 with two homers, one triple, five doubles, 20 runs and 17 RBI. Franksen hit .414 with 18 runs despite missing seven games with a hamstring injury. She committed no errors in 86 chances.

"We're expecting Heidi and Meghan to carry us far this year," Corsaut said. "They know what it means to be successful. They've won two league championships and participated in the playoffs every year.

"They're two of the best players in the area."

Russell (3B/C), Hall (P/OF), Arnold (P/OF) and Nash (1B/OF) are second-year starters.

Russell was named Ceres' Most Improved Player last year. She hit .333 with two doubles, six runs and nine RBI.

The Bulldogs must also get solid contributions from senior Veronica Perea (OF/2B), and juniors Jenna Staggs (OF), Crystal Goblirsch (OF/2B), Alexandra Overbey (OF/1B), Jessica Hunter (C/OF), Teryn Hansen (OF) and Heather Silva (OF).

"Everybody has to step up and perform," Corsaut said.

Capable pitchers

The Bulldogs don't have one dominant pitcher. They have two quality pitchers in Hall and Arnold. The duo allowed no runs in five non-league games. They surrendered just 13 hits and fanned 21 batters in 31 innings in leading Ceres to four wins and one tie.

"If we play great defense behind our pitcher, it's going to be hard for other teams to score against us," Corsaut said.

League realignment

Ceres competed in the Central California Conference for eight years. The Bulldogs won and/or shared seven league titles.

This season, Ceres and the five Modesto High Schools, Beyer, Davis, Downey, Johansen and Modesto, will vie for the MMC championship.

"Every team in this league has improved," Corsaut said.

The top two teams make the playoffs.

"We got a bull's-eye on our chest," Corsaut said. "Everybody is gunning for us. Everybody is going to play their best against us."

Is Ceres ready for the challenge?

The Bulldogs have been taking extra batting and grounders at practice.

"It's going to take that extra effort for us to be better," Corsaut said. - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier