The article below originally appeared on sfexaminer.com and is being reprinted with permission.

The memory of having nearly captured a state title, only to have it slip away, is one not easily forgotten.

Nicole Borg can attest to that.

“In life, unless you’ve experienced that feeling, it’s hard to learn through somebody else’s experience,” said Borg, who last season coached the No. 1 ranked College of San Mateo to the California Community College Athletic Association softball final four, only to lose its opening game to eventual state champion Palomar. “I hope [my team] takes into consideration that ‘I’ve been there, done that.’”

She has. Before last year, it had been 13 long seasons since CSM had crashed the state finals. That year, the Bulldogs’ staff was anchored by a sophomore ace surnamed Borg, and that year Palomar also won it all.

“We missed the mark by a fraction,” Borg said. “And it sucks. It’s a terrible feeling.”

And both team and coach are looking to avoid that feeling again.

At the midway point of their 2014 campaign, the Bulldogs again hold the No. 1 ranking in the state and stand alone as the only 20-win team at 20-1.

But record and rank aside, Borg isn’t celebrating.

“All that does is put a bigger target on our back,” she said. “That’s the message I try to get through to my kids … everybody is gonna play their best, which means you’re gonna always have to play your best. You can’t have an off day.”

But the Bulldogs nearly had an off day last time out. CSM was down 6-2 to No. 10 San Joaquin Delta on Thursday when the Bulldogs rallied to top the Mustangs 7-6.

“I don’t like us to be comfortable,” Borg said. “We still have 19 games to play in our regular season and we still have to prepare for the best that we’re going to see at the end.”

But to be one of the final four standing out of the 58 teams at season’s end, Borg will have to rely on a squadron of young players. CSM graduated nine players last season, including Jamie Navarro and Michele Pilster, who had played together since age 8.

Those returning include Natalie Saucedo (Burlingame High School), Aracely Osuna (Hillsdale High School) and Talisa Fiame (Terra Nova High School) — all of whom played and lost in last season’s final four.

“You have to do everything right to win the state championship. The team that makes one more mistake than the other will lose,” Borg said. “But the fact that we can say, ‘Hey, we’ve been there, we know what it takes.’ I think that holds a little bit more weight.”

CSM softball

COACH: Nicole Berg, eighth year

RECORD: 20-1, 3-0 in Coast Conference North

NEXT GAME: Tuesday, at De Anza College, 3 p.m.

NEXT HOME GAME: Thursday, vs. Ohlone College, 3 p.m.