Once teammates at Ceres High, Georgia catcher Mahlena O'Neal (left) and Washington shortstop Sis Bates now star for Top 25 programs.

Alumni Report: Ceres coach looks back at '16 softball glory. 'Meant to be for us.'

Ron Agostini

Three years later, Angela Durossette remembers that golden feeling – when you feel your team can’t do wrong.

Durossette, the coach of the 2016 Ceres High softball team, enjoyed one of those unforgettable runs with her talented team. The Bulldogs won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title that year, thanks in part to players who are making their mark at the next level.

Looking back, it’s clear why Ceres went 23-5 and emerged victorious in the section. The Bulldogs had shortstop Sis Bates (No. 3 Washington), catcher Mahlena O’Neal (No. 16 Georgia), third baseman Rayohna Sagapolu (San Jose State) and pitcher Callie Nunes (Division II No. 15 Concordia Irvine).

That nucleus anchored a 2016 postseason campaign that won’t soon be forgotten at Ceres. After tying Los Banos for the Western Athletic Conference title, the No. 3-seeded Bulldogs rolled past American Canyon 10-0, Pioneer 7-1, No. 2 seed Oakdale 5-3 and Benicia 1-0 in 10 innings.

After an 8-1 loss to Benicia, Ceres defeated the emerging powerhouse 3-2 for the title. Since then, Benicia has swept the last two section titles.

The victory over Oakdale was considered an upset at the time, though it’s clear after the passage of time that Ceres was a major contender. Nunes struck out 17 while Bates homered twice to top the Mustangs.

“It was one of those seasons where it was just meant to be for us. They had played together for so long. It was like a fairy tale,” Durossette said. “We were making incredible plays and getting clutch hits. We took the team to Oahu for a tournament over spring break that year.”

Durossette makes a point to watch her former stars and monitor their progress. Two weeks ago, she traveled to Berkeley to watch Bates’ Huskies sweep Cal.  Last weekend, she was in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as O’Neal and Georgia were swept by the Crimson Tide.

An update on that special quartet:

Sis Bates – The Huskies (35-6, 12-3 in the Pacific 12 Conference) have won 13 straight and again look like the team that reached the 2018 Women’s College World Series final. Bates, the Washington shortstop, has nine hits in her last 10 games to raise her average to .400.

Bates’ success this season is no surprise. Last year, she earned All-America first-team honors and was the Pac 12’s Defensive Player of the Year. For those reasons, she earned a berth on the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Preseason Watch List.

Washington, sitting in third place in the Pac 12, will try to catch first-place Arizona and second-place UCLA.

Concordia ace Callie Nunes notched her 50th career victory on Monday, completing a sweep of Holy Names. (Angela Durossette)

Callie Nunes – Nunes, the daughter of Ceres Athletic Director Shawna Nunes, picked up her 50th career win Monday as Concordia Irvine swept a doubleheader over Holy Names. That improved her record this season to 26-4 with a 1.01 ERA, featuring three no-hitters and 202 strikeouts in 159 innings.

Concordia Irvine, 37-6, leads the PacWest Conference at 23-3.

Mahlena O’Neal – Since her arrival at Georgia two years ago, O’Neal has been a fixture behind the plate. She has started 43 of 44 games this season and has shown improvement at the plate with her .254 average, four home runs and 28 RBIs.

Georgia (30-14, 5-10) is locked in 11th place in the Southeastern Conference,  a humble place for the nation’s 16th-ranked team.

Rayohna Sagapolu – Sagapolu, a four-time All-WAC star at Ceres,  has started 34 games at third base this season for the Spartans. She’s batting .264, an improvement over her .183 last year when she started 34 games.

San Jose State, 27-14 and 7-5 for second place behind Colorado State in the Mountain West Conference, opens a three-game series Thursday at UNLV.