Callie Nunes is never satisfied, even when the opposition leaves flustered, haunted by zeroes and Ks.
A fiery, right-handed pitcher for Ceres High, Nunes has been fighting perception her entire softball life.
At 5-foot-4 and 110 pounds, she’s too small to be an elite high school pitcher. Too small to withstand the rigors of a long season. Too small to compete when the batters get bigger, faster and stronger, and spotlight is brightest.
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Well, look at her now, standing atop the Stanislaus District, the Sac-Joaquin Section and the state.
Nunes is The Bee’s All-District Softball Player of the Year, an honor that will remain on campus one more year. In 2016, former teammate and University of Washington freshman Nicole Bates received The Bee’s top honor after guiding the Bulldogs to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III crown.
Like Bates, Nunes is a dominating individual talent.
She ranked among the section’s leaders in wins and ERA and finished near the stop of the state leaderboard in strikeouts. A relatively young, unproven team responded, too, repeating as the Western Athletic Conference champions and clinching a berth in the Division III tournament.
“I did not think I would be one of the leading pitchers in California,” Nunes said. “My goal was just to be the best in Northern California and I wasn’t even sure I’d get that. I’m proud of where I’ve come and what I’ve been through to get here, but …”
Nunes is never satisfied.
She is driven by the naysayers, real or contrived, who doubt her size and her “stuff.” She is the Little Engine that Could, with one exception: She doesn’t think she can, she knows.
“I’m a huge competitor,” Nunes said.
A huge competitor with a heavy bite.
Nunes was fourth in the state in strikeouts with a career-high 291. She achieved this feat in just 26 games, nine fewer than state leader Analise De La Roca of Port of Los Angeles High in San Pedro. De La Roca had 357 strikeouts.
After losing six players from the 2016 team to graduation, Ceres looked to Nunes to fill a leadership void.
“This year, I had to buckle down,” said Nunes, who fanned more than 500 batters in her last two seasons. “I told myself, ‘You’re not going to be able to take it easy. You’re going to have to take it upon your shoulders and carry your team through.’”
She had the third-most wins in the Sac-Joaquin Section, rounding out her senior season with a 20-3 record. Nunes also had the second-best ERA in the section at 0.52, topped only by Sierra’s Lindsay Walljasper (0.23). Amazingly, she gave up 11 earned runs in 147 innings.
Nunes wasn’t feasting on cupcakes, either.
Her game elevated with the stakes.
She ran through the Stanislaus District’s best, winning the types of games only aces can. Ceres beat Gregori, Oakdale and Los Banos by 1-0 margins. The Bulldogs also run-ruled Sierra, the Division IV champions.
Despite all of her individual accolades, Nunes is proudest most of the Bulldogs’ resolve this past season. With eight underclassmen and a new head coach (Ashley Nicolich), Ceres faced a rebuilding season.
Instead, the Dogs celebrated their fourth consecutive WAC crown and 20-win season.
“Last year, I learned that the encouragement of your teammates helps you more than you think,” Nunes said of the magical 2016 campaign. “The last two games of that year my body was done. I couldn’t go any farther, but my team was there to pick me up. It sounds so cliche, but it’s the truth: They helped me get through it.
“This year, there was a lot of doubt on the team. So my main goat was to be best teammate I could; to encourage them and help them through. It was a domino effect. I’d start it and another girl would take it, and it brought our whole team up.”
Tuesday: Boys golf
Wednesday: Boys tennis
Friday: Track and field