Destinee Santistevan’s Bulldogs will face Whitney in the Division II title game.

Winning a Sac-Joaquin Section championship in 2019 did not mean Vacaville High softball coach Desiree Santistevan could take it easy. The celebration quickly gave way to the realization that the Bulldogs would be expected to be perennial section contenders.

Someone forgot to inform the players of that last year, however, in the first full season since 2019. The Bulldogs finished third in the Monticello Empire League at 8-7 and 14-13 overall. Vacaville advanced to the playoffs only to lose to Roseville in the first round.

Santistevan never got to rest on her laurels because the section title in 2019 was followed by two seasons shortened by COVID-19 and one in which her team barely finished above. 500. The Bulldogs were on the verge of becoming pretenders rather than contenders.

Another disappointing finish in 2023 would make the 2019 championship seem like a distant memory. Santistevan’s confidence in the team she assembled for this season was tempered by a a sense of urgency that the Bulldogs had better … well, be better.

“We’ve been rebuilding the last couple of years, but I definitely felt it this year. The bar is higher than it’s ever been. We’ve got something to prove,” Santistevan said Monday, a day before the Bulldogs crushed St. Francis 11-0 in the the Division II semifinals. Vacaville and Whitney will tangle for the title at Sacramento State on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Jordan Munn (3) moved to second base so freshman Laila Dean could become the starting shortstop for the Bulldogs.

The bracket has played out as seeded with No. 1 Vacaville and No. 2 Whitney advancing. The 2019 crown was a surprise because the Bulldogs were seeded ninth. They beat No. 1 Rocklin in the second round, No. 3 Yuba City in the semifinals and No. 2 Del Oro in the championship game.

With all due respect to the 2019 team, Santistevan said her 2023 squad “is like no other I’ve had.” Her bold statement not only stems from success. The Bulldogs are 29-1 and have not lost since opening the season with a 7-3 loss to Pleasant Grove on March 3.

Pleasant Grove was the No. 1 seed in Division I but lost to No. 5 Inderkum in the semifinals Wednesday.

Santistevan’s current team is unique because the players have put the Bulldogs’ aspirations ahead of their personal pursuits. One example of that is Jordan Munn moving to second base after starting at shortstop in 2022. The junior was willing to switch positions even though it would be a freshman, Laila Dean, replacing her at shortstop.

Munn could have resisted and gone as far as to recruit a few teammates to join her in protesting the switch, but “Jordan rolled with it. No feelings were hurt,” Santistevan said. “Laila’s one of the most mature freshmen we’ve had. She’s so beyond her age.”

Senior Makayla Freshour also switched positions, moving from third base to first after sophomore Jordyn Jamison went down with a knee injury. “(Freshour) didn’t put up any type of resistance,” Santistevan offered. “She saw that she needed to be a leader.”

Freshour is one of three seniors on the team. The others are Aubrie Gibson, who replaced Freshour at third base, and center fielder Karlyne Manuel. Two seniors were cut before the start of the season and both had been in the program for three years. It was the first time in six seasons at the helm that Santistevan let a senior go – much less two.

“The phones were ringing. The parents were not happy,” said Santistevan, who has carried 15 players this season instead of the usual 12. The roster expanded to 17 for the playoffs with sophomores Elaina Munoz and Lola Vasquez promoted from the junior varsity team.

One more victory will be the Bulldogs’ 30th (in a row) and give Vacaville its second section championship in five years. Maybe that will allow Santistevan to relax for at least a day or two.