A year made a world of difference for the Lancaster JetHawks.
Delino DeShields Jr. led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run and scored twice Saturday night as Lancaster completed a sweep of Modesto, 3-2, to win the first California League championship in its 17-year history.
"We won against Lake Elsinore [in the first round] and they wanted to do something and I said, 'No, we'll do a big one when we win [it all]," JetHawks manager Rodney Linares said. "Then, after clinching [the division finals] in High Desert, I told them we ain't celebrating until we win. They were anxious for it and they went out there and played ball.
"During the season, it was just up and down. But it's all a testament to the kids and what they did and the great job my staff did -- hats off to them."
After DeShields, the Astros' No. 5 prospect, put Lancaster in front early, Domingo Santana and Erik Castro drove in two critical insurance runs in the third.
From there, Colton Cain (1-1) allowed two runs on four hits while striking out three over five innings, and three relievers combined on four two-hit frames.
DeShields was named Finals MVP after batting .318 with two stolen bases, two RBIs and five runs scored in three games.
"It felt real good as soon as [I homered]. I knew something special was going to happen tonight," he said. "I didn't know how it was going to happen, but I knew it would. It was special all around.
"This was my first time winning a championship and that's what I've been working for since the beginning of the year. This is probably the best team I've ever been on, as far as us being like a family. I wasn't here all summer, but when I got here, we just meshed together, have each others' backs."
Lancaster owned the league's worst record last year, then opened this season by getting outscored, 42-20, in a four-game sweep against High Desert. Linares said he knew that with a strong lineup and a hitter-friendly home park, his team would have no trouble scoring. Keeping runs off the board was the challenge.
They did plenty of the former and just enough of the latter to win the title.
"Coming out of Spring Training, I had a good feeling," Linares said. "We knew we had offense, the thing was the pitching. And that first series, we got beat up pretty bad. I was like, 'You know, we gotta do something.' And the guys did. They're enjoying the moment."
The JetHawks dispatched the Storm in the first round, allowing four runs in three games. Their second-round series with the Mavericks was a more customary high-scoring affair, but Lancaster overcame a 16-3 loss in Game 2 to advance.
In the Finals, the JetHawks outscored Modesto, 21-8.
"In Lancaster, everybody talked about the way it treats the pitchers and the atmosphere, but the pitchers bought into pitching down," Linares said. "And a month ago, I called my dad and I said, 'We've got a good chance of winning the title in this league.
"It's awesome. Especially being in the Astros organization for so long and struggling the last couple of years, they gave me this group of guys and they deserve it all, kudos to them."
Rehabbing Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa (0-1) took the loss after allowing all three runs on six hits over five innings. Tim Smalling tripled, doubled, walked and scored a run for the Nuts.