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Nickles tosses no-hitter

Madilyn Nickles had quite a week in what continues to be a banner season for the Merced softball team.

Nickles started the week with two home runs and a one-hit shutout against Turlock on Tuesday. She capped the week by pitching a no-hitter and also going 3 for 3 at the plate with 2 RBIs in a 6-0 win over Atwater on Thursday.

Nickles retired the first 14 hitters before walking Kaitlan Sheehan with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning.

“I knew what was going on in my head but I wasn’t thinking about the no-hitter,” Nickles said. “I just wanted to beat these guys. We have a rivalry with them.”

The goal the Merced players are focused on is a perfect run through the Central California Conference. The Bears (21-2-1 overall and 14-0 in the CCC) moved one win away from reaching that goal with the win.

“I thought our girls played a good game,” said Merced coach Bart McAfee. “We came out and wanted to play. They wanted to win. They want to go undefeated. That’s our main goal. We’ve already won league. We could come out like who cares what happens, but we want to play.”

It was a matchup of underclassmen with the sophomore Nickles squaring off against Atwater freshman Cheyenne Mahy. Both pitchers were in control from the start.

Merced was able to push across a run in the top of the second inning as Marissa Castillo hit a sacrifice fly to score Ruby Quiralte from third.

The game stayed 1-0 until Merced finally tacked on some insurance runs in the fifth and sixth innings.

“We hadn’t seen (Mahy) yet this year,” McAfee said. “She pitched a good game. I was impressed.”

The Falcons (7-7 CCC) only struck out three times against Nickles, but struggled to get the ball out of the infield. There were only two outs recorded in the outfield.

“We put the ball in play,” Atwater coach Lori Kale said. “To have only three strikeouts against Maddy is a good accomplishment. We just hit the ball right at people and they played great defense.”

The Bears finally broke the game open late as Chelsea Evans led off the sixth with a single and scored on a triple Nickles pulled down the third-base line. Quiralte followed with a popup that dropped down the right-field line for an RBI double to extend the lead to 3-0.

Evans, Nickles and Quiralte all drove in runs with hits in the seventh inning to give the Bears a 6-0 lead.

“Cheyenne threw well today,” Kale said. “Merced just has so many stinking good hitters throughout their lineup. From one through nine they can hit.”

Merced will try to finish off an undefeated run through the CCC on Tuesday at home against Golden Valley.

“We really want it,” Nickles said. “I think it will help us going into the playoffs. We just want to keep playing hard.”