Madilyn Nickles continued to amaze on the softball diamond in her sophomore season.
The Merced High School star has established herself as the top all-around player in the Central California Confernce.
“There’s definitely natural talent there, but some times natural talent can only get you so far,” Merced coach Bart McAfee said. “She works her butt off. She puts in extra time on her hitting and pitching. That’s what makes her a notch above everybody else.
“If I told her we needed her to play center field she would work on it and become a great center fielder.”
After earning her second CCC Most Valuable Player award and helping Merced (15-0 CCC) win its fourth consecutive conference championship, Nickles is the Sun-Star Softball Player of the Year.
“This year was awesome,” said Nickles, who played shortstop when she didn’t pitch. “I loved our team. We were really competed. We didn’t just have players out there because they were trying to get out of P.E. We wanted to be out there.”
Nickles hit .417 with four home runs and 21 RBIs. She also went 14-1 with a 1.52 ERA.
“She brings it every game,” Atwater coach Lori Kale said. “You have to earn every hit you get off her. She’s tough. She’s consistently in the strike zone. She’s not going to walk a lot of people. She changes speeds well and changes levels. She’s good at keeping hitters off balance. She also has good velocity and she can hit her spots.”
Nickles came into high school with a scholarship offer from UCLA already on the table. She knew with the verbal commitment there would be a lot of attention on her during her prep career.
She lived up to the hype as a freshman, hitting .426 with five home runs and 36 RBIs. She also went 9-1 with a 0.60 ERA.
“I think the biggest difference in Madilyn this year was her maturity level,” McAfee said. “She became more a team leader this year. Her whole game improved. She became a better pitcher. She would take the extra base if it was there. She just has that softball sense about her. I’m not sure she had better stats, but she had a great freshman year.”
Nickles only has to point to Merced’s playoff game her freshman season to see her improvement. Nickles was nervous and it took her a couple innings to settle in to the game against Roseville. The Bears eventually lost 5-3.
“Last year it was my first playoff game,” Nickles said. “I was really stressed. Even my travel coaches could tell I was nervous. This time when we got to the playoffs, I was perfectly fine. I learned how to treat it like every other game.
“You’re going to have bumps in the road that you have to get over. I just look at it as life lessons I had to learn. I talked to coaches. I learned you don’t have to come into the game thinking this one game will define you. I improved a lot mentally. I matured. I learned a lot about myself. That was the biggest difference from last year to this year. I learned not to get down in certain situations.”
Merced (24-4-1) won its first playoff game since 2006 and went 2-2 this postseason. With seniors like Chelsea Evans and Ruby Quiralte, it was the Bears’ best shot at a section title in the last 15 years.
“I’ve thought about that,” Nickles said. “They’re really good players. They’re probably two of the best players Merced has ever had. It’s a bummer they’re going to be gone. I’m sure we’ll come back and do pretty well next year.”
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or email@example.com.