There were cheers and tears as American softball legend Jennie Finch and a convoy of cameras surrounded Merced High (Calif.) senior Madilyn “Bubba” Nickles on her home softball field today. But there was one little hiccup. Nickles mistakenly believed the 20-pound trophy Finch handed her was the Gatorade California Player of the Year award. A full five minutes elapsed before the teen grasped the fact she is Gatorade’s 2015-16 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year.
“I was thinking, ‘this is a big deal for state,’” said Nickles, 18, a UCLA signee. “I had no idea. Even after I talked with Jennie and stood there for all these photos. I can’t believe a secret like this was kept. I usually know everything in this town. Am I still dreaming?
The 5-foot-8 right-handed pitcher and shortstop compiled a 20-5 record in the circle along with a 0.63 ERA this past season, leading the Bears (22-7) to the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Division I Tournament in the knockout bracket. Nickles struck out 308 batters in 167.1 innings pitched, surrendering only 81 hits and issuing just 28 walks en route to three no-hitters and nine shutouts.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Finch, 35, a three-time collegiate All-American who led Team USA to gold in the 2004 Athens Games. “It’s incredibly special to be here. To see another girl’s dream come true in this sport. What a thrill.”
At the plate, Nickles batted .552 with 20 doubles, eight home runs and 27 RBI to finish with a 1.126 slugging percentage and zero strikeouts in 104 plate appearances. She was the only junior on the 2015 USA Junior National Team that won the WBSC Junior Women’s World Championship last summer and she was the only high school-age player invited to train with the 2016 USA Softball Women’s Elite Team.
“Madi has become a once-in-a-decade type player,” said recruit evaluator and FloSoftball General Manager Brentt Eads. “She owns a rare combination of physical skills, fierce competitiveness and a work ethic second to none. Madi’s strength is her versatility. She’s a shutdown pitcher, a dangerous hitter and can play any position but catcher.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the softball diamond. Nickles is now a finalist for the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
Nickles has maintained a 3.97 GPA in the classroom. She has volunteered locally as part of multiple community-service initiatives through her school’s Rotary International Interact Club. Nickles has also donated her time generously to youth players, serving as a volunteer assistant for the past four years with both ASA Development Camps as well as Nike Softball Camps. In addition, she has coached and advised area U-12 to U-14 players on an individual basis and served as an instructor at USA Softball Youth Camps.
Nickles becomes the eighth Californian to win Gatorade national honors in softball. In all, 65 California natives have won Gatorade national honors throughout the award’s history, the most of any state. Nickles joins a distinguished list of national-winner alumni from the Golden State, including NBA All-Star Jrue Holiday (Campbell Hall, North Hollywood), who won in 2008, Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix (Los Angeles Baptist, North Hills), the 2003 winner in track, and three-time Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh (Archbishop Mitty, San Jose), who won in 1996.
Texas, with 31 national winners, has produced the next-most Gatorade national winners across the program’s 12 sports, followed by Florida (21), Illinois (15) and