Merced High senior Madilyn Nickles thought the big news on Thursday was she was graduating. That was until UCLA softball coach Kelly Inouye-Perez called in the morning to congratulate her.
Nickles was named the Gatorade California Softball Player of the Year.
“It makes today so much better,” Nickles said. “Today is just an amazing day. It’s pretty crazy. I know I was being considered. I found out I was on their watch list this year, which I didn’t find out until the end of the season. When I found out, I was like, ‘What, are you kidding me?’
“Since then, I’ve been asking my parents if they’ve heard anything. It’s been pretty exciting.”
Nickles, 18, helped lead the Bears (22-7) to a sixth consecutive Central California Conference championship. The three-time conference MVP compiled a 20-5 record in the circle with a 0.63 ERA. She finished with 308 strikeouts in 167 1/3 innings pitched and threw three no-hitters, including one perfect game.
She also finished with a .552 batting average to go along with 20 doubles, eight home runs and 27 RBIs. Nickles went the whole season without striking out in 104 plate appearances.
“She’s gotten a lot of notoriety, obviously, but she’s the best player I’ve ever seen in this area and I’ve been coaching for 19 years,” said Merced softball coach Bart McAfee. “I’ve never seen a player who can do everything as well as she can.
“She has speed, power and can hit for average. On the other side, she’s a great pitcher. We can put her at shortstop and she’s a great shortstop. There’s been other great players in our area, but she can do everything. They made a good choice in my opinion.”
This summer, the Merced star will be the only high school player to play with the 2016 USA Women’s National Elite Team. Last summer, Nickles was the only high school junior to play for the 2015 USA Junior National Team. Nickles hit .400 for the Junior National Team last summer with 10 hits in 25 at-bats. She hit a two-run homer in a 7-0 win over the Czech Republic. She also finished with one double, a triple and 10 RBIs while hitting fifth in the lineup most games.
Nickles was named a first-team All-American by FloSoftball.com and a second-team All-American by USA Today after her junior season, in which she hit .526 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs.
Meanwhile, she’s kept a 3.95 GPA.
Nickles will attend and play softball at UCLA next year. She verbally committed to UCLA before her freshman season at Merced High.
“Softball means everything to me,” Nickles said. “It has been my escape from everything else. I love softball. Not just because I love the game, but because it allows me to be myself and it allows me to express my competitive side in a positive way. I love helping whatever team I’m playing on. Softball continues to open paths for me and leads me in the right direction.”
One destination could be the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo if softball is ultimately brought back as an Olympic sport. The International Olympic Committee executive board announced Wednesday that it supports adding softball, baseball and three other sports to the 2020 Olympics.
“I’m hopeful, but I’m going to take it year by year,” Nickles said.
As the state player of the year, Nickles is now a finalist for the Gatorade National Player of the Year, which will be announced this month.
Nickles already has a spot picked out for the banner and trophy that come with being named the Gatorade State Player of the Year.
“I’m hanging that banner in my room,” Nickles said. “My mom said we might have to get a new piece of furniture for the trophy. It’s so exciting. I know how prestigious the award is. I never thought I’d be one to get it.”