Madilyn Nickles’ closet continues to accumulate Team USA gear. She’s received shirts, shorts and sweats from playing two years on national teams during the summer.
She has an impressive world championship ring and a gold medal after helping the Junior National Team win the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation Junior Women’s World Championship in Oklahoma City last summer.
Nickles will have to find room to show off her Gatorade State and National Player of the Year trophies in her house.
So it comes as no surprise that Nickles is the Sun-Star Softball Player of the Year for a fourth consecutive year.
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“I can’t believe how fast all four years of high school went by,” Nickles said. “I got to play with a lot of amazing girls at Merced High. I learned a lot from my teammates and coaches. All the stuff I learned I can carry with me the rest of my softball life.
“I never expected these awards. I wanted to end our season by winning CCC again and getting as far in the playoffs as we could. That was my goal. The fact that I won these awards is the cherry on top.”
One person who wasn’t surprised is her future coach at UCLA. Kelly Inouye-Perez saw something special in Nickles at an early age and offered her a scholarship to UCLA before she played a game in high school.
Inouye-Perez watched Nickles, who goes by the nickname “Bubba,” in a camp when she was in middle school and was impressed right away.
“Recruiting goes a lot faster than everyone expects and you have to identify talent early,” Inouye-Perez said. “We look for well-rounded, all-around athletes. You could tell right away Bubba has the physical ability. She can swing the stick. She has speed. She also has the academics. She’s the full package.
“We saw at the camp she possessed all those abilities. After meeting her you can tell she’s very competitive, she has a wonderful personality and she has this attention to detail that all the greats have. You could tell she was ready to get after the world.”
Nickles recently returned after a week of intense training with the USA Women’s National Elite team in Oklahoma City.
The trip came after some unwanted time off.
A rib injury finally sidelined the Merced High star after the season. After seeing a doctor, Nickles was told to stay away from the softball diamond for a few weeks to let the injury heal.
It was tough for Nickles to stay away, but she knew she had to because she didn’t want to jeopardize her busy summer, which includes playing with the USA Women’s National Elite team.
“For a couple weeks all I could do was work out. I couldn’t go to the ball field,” Nickles said. “That was killing me. I’m always on the ballfield practicing with my dad. That was heartbreaking. One of the things my dad has always told me is practice gives you confidence. I want to always continually get better.”
The softball field has always been Nickles’ escape. Her passion and drive have pushed her to become one of the top high school players in the country.
Still, Nickles was surprised when she was named the Gatorade State Softball Player of the Year and blown away a week later when she was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year.
Nickles was also named the Central California Conference MVP for the third time in her prep career after leading the Bears (22-7) to a sixth consecutive league championship.
“She’s truly becoming an impact player,” Inouye-Perez said. “She continues to develop. I loved the feedback I got from the national coaches on her. They said they loved every part of her game. They loved how she ran the bases. They loved all aspects of her game.
“She didn’t play on a high-profile team from Southern California. She didn’t have some of the experience of some of the other girls, but Bubba is going to try to be the best player she can. Give this girl an opportunity and she’s going to kick down the door.”
Nickles finished with a .552 batting average to go along with team highs in runs scored (33), doubles (20), RBIs (27) and home runs (eight).
She also went 19-5 in the pitching circle with a 0.50 ERA, tossing three no-hitters.
One of the things that sticks out about Nickles for Merced coach Bart McAfee is her dependability.
“You know she’s going to be there all the time,” McAfee said. “She’s so reliable. I don’t have to worry if she is going to be there or not. She’s had little injuries here and there and still been able to go.
“She leads by example. Other girls see what she does and they want to work as hard as she does.”
Two eye-popping stats from Nickles’ season is her 308 strikeouts – which ranked third in the state – and the fact that she went through the entire season without striking out in 104 at-bats.
“I never thought I’d get to 300 strikeouts or not strike out the whole season,” Nickles said. “I never thought about those things during the season. I just played and had fun. It makes it that more special.”
“There were times that she would get to two strikes and she would just battle,” McAfee added. “Most of the time she would still get a hit. Not everyone can do that. Not everyone feels comfortable hitting with two strikes.”
Nickles spent most of her time at pitcher last season. She made 26 appearances in the circle in 29 games. Two of the games she didn’t pitch came in the playoffs. Nickles played the final three or four weeks of the season with an injured rib.
The pain became so unbearable that she didn’t pitch in two of Merced’s playoff games. The postseason games in which she did pitch, she wore a wrap around the injury and pitched through the pain.
She was still able to help the Bears pick up wins over Tracy and Vacaville. Nickles was also in the circle when Merced lost to eventual section champion Sheldon 3-1.
“That was pretty tough,” Nickles said. “I’ve never had an injury like that. The pain was excruciating. Playing games was tough, but I wanted to help the team get as far as we could.”
The debate now is over what position will Nickles play when she gets to UCLA. Will she pitch? Will she play infield? Will she play in the outfield?
“I believe she can literally play anywhere and she’s a great value because of that,” Inouye-Perez said. “She can come in and compete at any position. This fall, I will literally put her at all positions and see where she can help UCLA the most in 2017.”
Nickles isn’t concerned where she’ll play. She’s ready for the next chapter in her softball career.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’ve been talking with a lot of my teammates I’ll be playing with in the future when I get to UCLA. They’ve said they can’t wait to be on the field with me at UCLA. I’m excited too.”
All-Area Softball Team
Cheyenne Mahy (Junior), Atwater
Brittany Massa (Senior), Atwater
Rheanne Lewis (Senior), Merced
Monique Collins (Senior), Merced
Selena Sandoval (Junior), Buhach Colony
Marissa Bertuccio (Freshman), Golden Valley
Cassie Gasper (Junior), El Capitan
McKenzie Schumacher (Senior), El Capitan
Ali Waltman (Junior), Los Banos
Kiara Azevedo (Sophomore), Los Banos
Violet Matlock (Sophomore), Mariposa
Leah Lafata (Junior), Mariposa
Teya Vincent (Sophomore), Dos Palos
Krislyn Kragie (Junior), Chowchilla
Samantha Jacquez (Junior), Pacheco
Coach of the Year – Tony Williams, Mariposa