Ceres High's Nicole "Sis" Bates (right) will lead the University of Washington into the Women's College World Series, which begins Thursday, May 30, 2019. Bates is the Pac-12's two-time Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American.

Local impact: Valley stars vie for NCAA title at Women's College World Series

Ron Agostini

The Women’s College World Series begins Thursday at Oklahoma City, and local products will play more than just cameo roles.

Not often do major stars from the area – and more than one – grace the scene of a national championship. Indeed, the path to an NCAA title will be affected by players schooled in the valley.

Begin with Washington junior Nicole “Sis” Bates, a Ceres High graduate and arguably the nation’s top shortstop. Her reputation as one of the Pacific 12 Conference’s best has been set in cement for years. Bates earned All-American first-team honors, along with pitcher Gabbie Plain, for the second straight year and became only the third player to repeat as the Pac 12’s Defense Player of the Year.

She committed only two errors this season, and her career fielding percentage .981 is a school record for middle infielders. Her spectacular style has gone viral, as her glove paved the way for Washington’s victory over Kentucky in the Super Regional.

Bates also is a threat with the bat, illustrated by her .386 average, 59 runs and 29 RBIs. She clearly was instrumental in the Huskies’ march to their third straight trip to the WCWS. Washington lost to Florida State in the 2018 final.

If Bates’ reputation was affirmed at UW, Oklahoma freshman first baseman Grace Green – a graduate of Oakdale High – made an immediate impression for the top-seeded Sooners.

Green clouted her 16th home run during the Sooners’ Super Regional-clinching win and ranks among her team’s top hitters with a .388 average. She’s also committed only three errors.

For those reasons and more,  Green – a third-team All-American – is in the running for the Schutt Sports/NFCA National Freshman of the Year. Her play will be critical in Oklahoma’s pursuit of a third national title in the last four years.

Closer to home, Merced High grad Madilyn “Bubba” Nickles continues to shine for No. 2 seed UCLA. The outielder, a former Gatorade National Player of the Year at Merced, earned first-team All-American honors by Softball America and second-team All-America recognition by the NFCA.

The outfielder has driven in 69 runs, tied for fifth-best in the nation. Nickles leads the Bruins with 16 home runs and with the 69 RBIs, and is second with 59 runs and .716 slugging percentage. Her .395 average is third-best on her team.

Nickles and pitcher Rachel Garcia, who could be the nation’s best player, must be at their best for UCLA to claim its 12th national title.

Arizona freshman Riley Kuderca, a graduate of Patterson High, has played sparingly this season but has scored seven runs as a pinch-runner.

Women’s College World Series

Thursday’s First Round

9 a.m. – No. 3 Washington (50-7) vs. No. 6 Arizona (46-12)

11:30 a.m. -- No. 7 Minnesota (46-12) vs. No. 2 UCLA (51-6)

4 p.m. – No. 5 Florida (49-16) vs. No. 13 Oklahoma St. (43-15)

6:30 p.m. – No. 8 Alabama (57-8) vs. No. 1 Oklahoma (54-3)