Even as a 7-year-old, Ali Aguilar was dialed in.
As a youth softball player in Orangevale, picking daisies or watching the other kids clap, cheer and mug in the dugout was out of the question.
"I've always been pretty competitive," says Aguilar, now a senior shortstop at Casa Roble High School. "I've always been pretty focused because softball is my passion."
There were hits to be made, outs to record and games to be won.
"She's pretty much the same now as when she was 7," says senior Mc-Kenzie Kenobbie, Aguilar's close friend and longtime teammate. "I've never seen a girl who has always wanted to be on a softball field.
"She is the hardest worker I've ever seen on and off the field. If she doesn't have it perfect, she'll keep working at it, even if it takes a couple of hours. But because of it, she's made me a lot better player, too."
That drive has helped make Aguilar one of the area's best players. She is a three-time all-league selection, including league Player of the Year as a freshman when the Rams were in the Capital Athletic League. She is an A-student and has signed a letter of intent with Washington.
Come July she will represent the United States in the International Softball Federation Junior Women's World Championship in Canada. She was the only high school player selected to the 17-player team composed primarily of college freshmen.
"It's amazing and a tremendous honor," said Ken Kenobbie, Casa Roble's coach and McKenzie's father. "It's been fun watching her grow up. She deserves it. She plays the game the right way. She works hard. She's a perfectionist."
Well, she's not quite perfect.
She admits that the Rams' ubiquitous team motto "One Team, One Vision, One Goal" was "borrowed" from a neighborhood youth team she helped coach earlier this year.
And then there's the uniform.
Because of the all-out way Aguilar plays, her duds are almost always caked in dirt.
"She likes to get dirty," McKenzie Kenobbie said. "She doesn't want anything to get past her, so she's always diving for balls. And when she's running the bases, she's always hitting the dirt."
For now she's playing as hard as she can as she tries to cap her prep career with a fourth league title and another Sac-Joaquin Section banner.
The Rams won the Division III title in Aguilar's freshman year, then stepped up to win the Division II championship her sophomore season.
But Casa Roble was eliminated in last year's D-II semifinals by Capital Valley Conference rival Del Campo, which lost in the championship game to Woodcreek.
That just made the Rams' "Three Amigos" even more determined.
Aguilar, center fielder Kenobbie and junior third baseman Krystal Aubert are the team's close-knit friends and offensive leaders.
Aguilar is hitting .491 with four home runs, 19 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. Kenobbie has a .447 average and a .519 on-base percentage. Aubert, hitting .362 with four home runs and the league MVP as a freshman in 2011, will follow Aguilar to Washington next year after verbally committing to the Huskies.
"For a high school, we're very fortunate to have two Pac-12 players," Ken Kenobbie said. "They set a great example for the other girls. It's fun to watch, fun to coach."
The other senior, Kaitlyn Garcia, has pitched every inning for the Rams the past three seasons and was the league MVP last season.
While Aguilar is a member of the highly successful All-American Sports Academy ASA team, she says nothing tops playing high school ball.
"It's good playing for your school because everyone's from the same neighborhood, and you get to play with your friends," Aguilar said. "With travel ball, you are sometimes playing with teammates who live two hours from you."
Even better is that Aguilar's sister Sami, a freshman, is the Rams' starting second baseman and is getting a chance to share the experience.
It's the first time they have played softball together since elementary school.
"She wasn't nearly as competitive as me back then," Ali said of Sami. "But now she's really into it, and she's really mature for her age. It's been fun getting to play with her again."
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.