By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Ceres High's varsity softball program extended its string of consecutive playoff appearances to 23 in 2008 by winning 11 of 14 Valley Oak League games.

The Bulldogs tied for second with Sierra and received the conference's No. 2 postseason seed by virtue of their 2-0 record against the Timberwolves.

Ceres High enters the 2009 season as the favorite to win the VOL title. No other team returns as much talent as the Bulldogs, who expect to make a deep run in the playoffs.

"We all want to win league, make playoffs and take the blue banner (section title) this year," star pitcher Vaneza Hoover said. "We'll make it happen."

Added head coach Donnie Donaldson: "Those are realistic goals."

The Bulldogs bring back nine players from the 2008 team, including Hoover, Mika Johnson (OF/P, Sr.), Hillary Haley (OF/C, Jr.), Ryan Norton (OF/UTL, So.), Jode Johnson (SS/IF, Jr.), Amanda Lampley (C/IF, Sr.), Taylor Saikurada (1B/UTL/DH, So.), Erica Reyes (1B/OF, Jr.) and Shaye Farriester (2B/OF, Sr.).

Priscilla Acosta (1B/P, Jr.), Shalaina Carvajal (UTL, Jr.) Brittany Padilla (DH, Jr.) and Kaycee Creek (3B, Fr.) are newcomers.

"A lot of these girls worked really hard in the offseason," Donaldson said.

Added Hoover: "We can all hit and play good defense. There's really no weak spot in the lineup."

Vaneza, the reigning VOL Pitcher of the Year, compiled an 18-10 record with a 2.08 ERA, 199 strikeouts, six shutouts and two no-hitters as a junior. She hit .388 (33-for-85) with four homers, five triples, five doubles, five stolen bases, 15 runs and 24 RBIs. Hoover had slugging and on-base percentages of .706 and .458.

"She's always thrown hard," Donaldson said. "Now that she has control, she's going to be even better. I expect her to have 50-60 more strikeouts this year. She's pretty intimidating,"

"I've been working a lot with my pitching coach and dad," Vaneza said. "I've been doing things by myself. I'm trying to get better."

Mika Johnson, the 2008 VOL Offensive Player of the Year, batted .448 with 39 hits, 24 runs and 28 stolen bases.

"I hope she can duplicate what she did last year," Donaldson said. "It's hard to stop her when she gets on base."

Haley and Norton both earned second-team honors last season.

Hillary batted .311 (23-for-74) with two doubles, 10 runs and six RBIs.

Ryan batted .310 (22-for-71) with one homer, six doubles, 13 runs and nine RBIs.

Jode was an all-defensive team selection as a sophomore. She committed just four errors on her to posting a .911 fielding percentage. Johnson batted .263 (21-for-80) with four triples, three doubles, 15 stolen bases, 31 runs and 15 RBIs.

The top two teams in the Valley Oak League qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.

Ceres High should be considered a legitimate contender because of its solid pitching, offense and defense.

The Bulldogs hope to improve on their 18-10 overall record, runner-up finish in league and 0-1 showing at the Section tournament.

"We should be pretty strong this year," Donaldson said. "We have speed and power. We're loaded."

"I'm really confident," Hoover said.