LANCASTER -- The Modesto Nuts' season ended at the exact moment the players were too tired to shed tears.
A season's end always is a difficult moment for all but the championship team, and this year the honor of winning the last game in the California League fell to Lancaster, which beat the Nuts 3-2 Saturday night at The Hangar to complete a three-game sweep.
It was the first title for the JetHawks in their 17 seasons, and they beat a Nuts team that reached this round for the first time in its eight seasons as a Colorado affiliate.
Modesto reached the best-of-five finals by winning two elimination games against San Jose, then taking three more win-or-go-home decisions against Bakersfield.
But this was a different animal. Not only did all of those five Modesto wins come at John Thurman Field, but none of them came against a team as hot or talented as Lancaster.
"They got hot and it's hard to stop a hot team," said Delta Cleary Jr., playing his first game of the season in right field because of the late scratch of Juan Crousset (flu) from the lineup. "We knew what we had to do, and they were able to overcome everything we were trying. Hat's off to them, because we gave it all we had."
Have no doubt, the JetHawks were a better team at the end than was Modesto, which in the championship series was outmanned and outplayed.
"There was a lack of execution at times, but the lineup we had was on fumes," said Nuts manager Lenn Sakata. "We didn't have much left in the tank. Our outfielders had to play every day for the last 10 days or so and they gave it the best they could."
That outfield, for the first time this season, included Jared Clark in left. The Nuts lost top hitter and right fielder Kyle Parker in the final weekend of the regular season, and the Colorado organization failed to send a fourth outfielder to Modesto to take Parker's place.
"It was so hard for this team just to reach this point," Sakata said. "We were without our best hitter, and since we were constantly in a situation in which we didn't have our best we had to use whatever we had. You hope to overcome that, but Lancaster was hot and played better than we did."
Contrast Modesto's short roster with that of Lancaster, which received a late-season infusion from its parent club, the Houston Astros. Sensing the team might need a boost, Houston sent top prospect Delino DeShields Jr., to the California League for the final weeks of the regular season.
All DeShields did was earn series MVP honors by going 6-for-13 in the three games, and his Game 3 leadoff homer against Nuts starter Jorge De La Rosa gave Lancaster a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
De La Rosa would end up allowing two more runs in the third on three hits and a walk, and the JetHawks appeared on the verge of blowing open this game in the manner of Friday's 11-2 win in Modesto.
But the Nuts were resilient to the end, and touched Lancaster starter Colton Cain for two runs in the fourth on triples by Cleary and Tim Smalling and a double by Brett Tanos.
With the wind blowing out on a warm evening, there seemed no way that would be the end of the scoring. But it was, although Modesto had three good chances to at least forge a tie.
Dallas Tarleton was hit by a pitch to open the fifth and was bunted to second, where he was stranded. Clark doubled to the wall in left with one out in the sixth, and died on second.
The best chance came in the ninth, when Smalling hit the first pitch to the wall in left for a double. Like all who reached second before him in the previous four innings, Smalling would spend the rest of the season at second base.
After De La Rosa's five innings, the Nuts bullpen of Josh Mueller, Kurt Yacko and Isaiah Froneberger blanked Lancaster on one hit.
One hit. That's all Modesto was all night long from forcing a Game 4, when it would have sent league pitcher of the year Christian Bergman to the mound, with the threat of a suddenly lights-out Tyler Matzek in the hole for the decisive Game 5.
"This has been a crazy and fun year and we accomplished a lot of things," Cleary said in the middle of a clubhouse essentially too proud to cry.
"Everybody showed their heart and character the way they came out here and competed every game, right up until the end."