The Modesto Nuts claimed their first California League Championship Series on Friday night with an 8-1 victory over Lancaster, capping a perfect 6-0 run through the playoffs.
Modesto captures its first pennant since 2004, when the team was the High-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s. This was the first season Modesto was an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. The past 12 were spent affiliated with the Colorado Rockies. The title is the ninth in the city’s 70-year California League history.
Joe Rizzo, who played five games with the Nuts to end the regular season after being promoted from Clinton (Iowa) of the Midwest League, was named MVP of the series, batting .538 (7 for 13) with a home run, a pair of doubles, four RBIs and three runs scored. He was drafted by the Mariners in the second round of in the 2016 draft out of Oakton High School in Vienna, Va.
“I was just coming in and trying to do my own thing and just try and help the team win,” said Rizzo, who had a slash line of .254/.354/.346 with seven home runs and 50 RBIs for the LumberKings. “I definitely thought coming in we were going to win the Cal League title. It’s a great group of guys around here, but I never thought I would’ve won (MVP).”
The 19-year-old third baseman was 2 for 4 with a run scored Friday.
Modesto scored two in the first inning – the fifth time in six postseason games the Nuts got on the board before their opponent – and one in the third to make it a 3-1 contest. In the seventh, with a run already in, catcher Arturo Nieto drilled a 1-1 offering over the wall in left to make it 7-1, putting the game on ice.
First baseman Joey Curletta and designated hitter Joe DeCarlo added three hits apiece.
The Nuts struggled offensively late in the regular season but their bats came alive in September. In a three-game sweep of Stockton in the North Division Championship Series, Modesto hit .305 and averaged just under eight runs per game. Against the JetHawks, the Nuts hit .306 and scored 9.7 runs per game
“I have never seen a group of men prepare this hard all year,” said Modesto manager Mitch Canham, who guided Clinton to the Midwest League Championship Series in 2016. “Everyday they came out here, pregame work, they were getting after it, pushing one another. I won’t call this a team, I’ll call it a family and we were very grateful to represent the city of Modesto.”
Starting pitcher Robert Dugger, a right-hander, pitched 5 2/3 solid innings, yielding four hits and two walks while striking out four. Right-handed submariner Jack Anderson came on to fan the only batter he faced to finish the six and righty Seth Frankoff struck out four in two innings of work.
The Nuts tacked on a run in the eight and right-hander Art Warren worked the ninth, getting Wes Rogers to strike out to end the season and set off a wild celebration on the mound and, later, in the locker room.