High School Sports

Merced’s Nickles homers for USA Elite team, headed to ESPYs next week

It didn’t take long for Madilyn Nickles to make an impact for the USA Women’s National Elite team.

The former Merced High School star homered in her second at-bat, hitting a two-run blast to left-center field in a 17-0 win over Mexico in the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

“It was pretty awesome,” said Nickles, who went 1 for 2 with three runs in the game. “In the moment, I was so focused. After the game, people were talking about it. I think I earned a bit of respect from my teammates and coaches.”

Nickles is the only high school player on the Team USA Elite team. Nickles was shocked when she was asked to pitch an inning during a 13-2 win over the Czech Republic on Tuesday. Nickles gave up two hits and an unearned run.

“I got them to hit some bad balls,” she said. “I hadn’t pitched in a while. I didn’t expect to pitch with this team. I warmed up for five minutes and then they told me I was going in, so I said, ‘OK.’ 

The Elite team is 2-0 in its pool entering Thursday’s game against Canada.

Nickles was named the Gatorade National and State Softball Player of the Year after leading the Bears to a 22-7 record this spring. She finished 20-5 with a 0.63 ERA and 308 strikeouts in 167 1/3 innings. Nickles also hit .552 with 20 doubles, eight home runs and 27 RBIs.

It was pretty awesome. In the moment, I was so focused. After the game, people were talking about it. I think I earned a bit of respect from my teammates and coaches.

Madilyn Nickles, on hitting a two-run homer for Team USA

As the Gatorade National Player of the Year, she’s also a finalist for the 2015-16 Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year, which will be announced Tuesday in Los Angeles. Nickles and the other finalists will attend the award dinner, which will be emceed by ESPN’s Sage Steele. Awards will be presented by Cam Newton, Karl Anthony-Towns and Abby Wambach.

The six female finalists and six male finalists also will walk the red carpet at the ESPY Awards on Wednesday.

“I am really excited,” Nickles said. “It’s pretty cool to go to an award show with the best athletes in the world. We’re not talking just about softball. We’re not talking about just college. It’s professional sports. My mom and I already got two dresses. They are going to have people do our hair and makeup, so it’s cool I don’t have to worry about that.”

Some of the top stars from the NBA, NFL, NHL, college sports and the Olympics will attend the ESPY Awards.

“I think it would be pretty cool to see LeBron James,” Nickles said. “He would probably be number one on my list. I’m still making a list of people I should scope out.”

McAfee steps down at Merced – Nickles’ former coach at Merced, Bart McAfee, has decided to take a break and has resigned as the softball and boys soccer coach.

McAfee has coached softball for 18 years and accumulated more than 300 wins at Merced and Livingston. He led the Bears to six consecutive Central California Conference championships and eight league titles overall.

“I need time off,” McAfee said. “Right now, that’s why I’m doing it.”

McAfee said the move of boys soccer from the fall to the winter led to his decision to step away from soccer. McAfee guided the Bears to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship in 2008.

“I don’t want to coach in the winter. That’s the reason for that one,” McAfee said. “The other one (softball), I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. I just need time off physically. I may not coach again. I don’t know right now. I just may need a break.”

Mahy commits to Texas Woman’s University – Atwater senior Cheyenne Mahy committed to Texas Woman’s University last week. Mahy made her announcement on Twitter.

I need time off. Right now, that’s why I’m doing it.

Bart McAfee, on his decision to step down as Merced’s softball and boys soccer coach

The Falcons’ ace was named the CCC Pitcher of the Year after compiling a 15-4 record with a 0.33 ERA this spring.

Shawn Jansen: 209-385-2462, @MSSsports