FAIRFIELD — There’s something special about an undefeated season.
The Vacaville and Rio Vista high school softball teams made it through the regular season without a loss and hope to keep it that way in the upcoming Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
The Bulldogs (24-0-1) open Division I play against Pitman of Turlock at the Sacramento Softball Complex on Saturday at 9 a.m.
The Rams (15-0) take on Mariposa or Golden Sierra of Garden Valley in the Division VI semifinals at the Arnaiz Softball Complex in Stockton on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Both teams have balance with devastating offenses and solid pitching backed by swarming defenses.
“They have really good chemistry and they have heart and they just love to play ball,” said Liz Sauerwein, who’s in her eighth season as Vacaville coach. “We call them gamers, because once they get between the lines, nothing else matters. They just come together. I’ve never seen a team with such chemistry at game time.”
Alyson Styles is in her third year as coach of the Rams and each year they’ve qualified for the playoffs, tying for the Sierra Delta League title in 2012 and finishing second last season before running away with the crown this year.
“The team is made up of three seniors, two juniors and six freshmen,” Styles said, “and the juniors and seniors have been playing together and been part of program for a while. They were part of the team that tied for first two years ago and made the playoffs last year.”
The only blemish on Vacaville’s record is a 2-2 tie with Ponderosa of Shingle Springs in the fourth game of the season, the opener in the tournament in Elk Grove.
When asked if her team would like another crack at the Bruins, Sauerwein chuckled and said, “Yes we would, definitely. I think that’s the one, I don’t want to say glitch, but blip on our record.
“We are where we are because of hard work. In the (Elk Grove) tournament I don’t think we knew we’d be where we are today. We were trying out different things, trying to find our A team.”
The Bulldogs are led by senior shortstop Julia DePonte, the newly crowned Monticello Empire League Player of the Year.
The University of Washington-bound DePonte is batting a sizzling .548 with eight doubles, seven triples, five home runs and 32 RBIs, according to Maxpreps.com.
“She’s our anchor, she’s phenomenal,” Sauerwein said. “To me she’s the most feared hitter in the MEL. She’s just a great all around player.”
DePonte plays behind MEL Pitcher of the Year Katie Kibby, who’s won all 24 of her starts with 14 shutouts. The sophomore has a 0.57 earned run average with 206 strikeouts and 37 walks in 160 innings.
“Katie, she’s the total package,” Sauerwein said. “She throws hard, she has a lot of movement and good control. She’s only a sophomore. She’s improved a lot from last year. To see where she’s at now, I’m excited to see where she’ll be at in two years.”
Also named to the all-MEL first team were senior catcher Rachel Heizer (.380, 2 HR, 23 RBIs) and freshman center fielder Alyse Rojas (.526, 6 doubles, 6 triples, 31 runs).
Receiving honorable mention were sophomore third baseman Maddie Rojas (.364, 4 doubles, 3 triples, 19 RBIs) and senior second baseman Izzy Delagarza (.264, 3 HR, 19 RBIs).
Rounding out the starting lineup are junior first baseman Kylie Larsen, freshman left fielder Morgan Conner, sophomore right fielder Brianna Dick and senior designated player Megan Vasquez.
“We’ve asked a lot of girls to play out of their (normal) position,” Sauerwein said. “They’ve done it without question, they’ve given 100 percent.”
And done it well enough to be ranked fifth in the state, third in Northern California and first in the Sac-Joaquin Section by Cal-Hi Sports. According to Maxpreps.com, the Bulldogs are 13th in the Xcellent 25, fourth in the state, second in Northern California and first in the SJS.
Sauerwein appreciates how her team has handled being so highly ranked and having an unbeaten record.
“The girls don’t talk about the record,” the coach said. “It’s not that they don’t care less, but once they win a game, they move on to the next one.”
And Sauerwein knows that because the Bulldogs are the top seed in the playoffs other teams will be looking to hand them their first loss of the season.
“We’re going to be looked at as a stepping stone, a mountain people want to conquer because of the record and position,” Sauerwein said. The players “don’t bring (any added pressure) to practice, they don’t bring it to a game. They just want to play.”
So do the Rams, who simply destroyed each of their opponents this season, winning 13 games by the 10-run rule and the other two by seven runs (12-5 over Dixon) and six runs (12-6 over Bradshaw Christian).
“They basically won by mercy rule every game,” Stiles said. “They didn’t just win league, they dominated league.”
It’s a point of pride that the softball team is the only one at Rio Vista to win a Sierra Delta League title since the school rejoined the Sac-Joaquin Section a few years ago.
“It’s the second time to have a (championship) banner,” Stiles said. “The first one was bittersweet. Awesome that we got the first one, bittersweet because we tied.”
A turning point for 2014 was the arrival of freshmen pitchers Reyna Alvarez, Celeste McGahey and Daryn Katuski, giving the Rams depth in an area in which they’ve often been sorely lacking.
“The three freshmen who came in had pitching experience. That’s one thing we struggled with in the past,” Stiles said. “We taught people to become a pitcher. We did well with that because we took first and second (place). This year with three freshmen coming in they’re not overworked in one game or don’t have to pitch back-to-back.”
The three pitch to fellow freshman Holly Witcraft (.444, 5 doubles, 20 RBIs). The infield is made up of senior Carli Schultz (.447, 5 doubles, 21 RBIs) at first base, Katsuki (.615, 8 doubles, 7 triples, 1 home run, 26 RBIs) at second when she’s not pitching, junior Kylee Hagan (.389, 4 doubles, 3 home runs, 21 RBIs) at shortstop and senior Brooke Smith (.244, 2 doubles, 11 RBIs) at third.
Manning the outfield are senior Kayla Oglesby (.457, 3 doubles, 18 runs) in left, junior Mariah Hernandez (.290, 24 runs) in center and freshmen Amber Hambita (400, 3 doubles, 11 runs) and Amber Ortega (.458, 3 doubles, 2 home runs, 16 RBIs) in right as well as McGahey (.333, 4 doubles), when she’s not pitching.
“I was concerned we had such a big division, half the team older players, half the team freshmen,” Stiles said. “I was concerned on how well we’d get along.”
That hasn’t been a problem, though there were some miscommunication on defense in the early going because the layers weren’t used to playing together.
“Now they move in synch,” Stiles said. “We don’t have those same problems we had in the beginning of the season.”
One problem is finding a way to win in the playoffs. The Rams are 0-2 in the postseason under Stiles, but the coach feels the team has all the pieces to make a serious run at the title.
“We have the best record,” she said, “because the girls worked their butts off to stay undefeated.”
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.