Nuts cap perfect postseason with Cal title

Rizzo named playoff MVP in Nuts' first championship since '04

Modesto closed with a nine-game winning streak that extended to the final week of the regular season. (Seattle Mariners)

By Michael Leboff / | September 16, 2017 2:52 AM

The Modesto Nuts got hot at just the right time.

Modesto beat Lancaster, 8-1, on Friday at Thurman Field to complete a perfect postseason and capture its first California League championship since 2004. It was the second straight series sweep for the Nuts, who also rolled past Stockton in the semifinals.

Gameday box score

"Our team knew the whole year we could pull something off like this," first baseman Joey Curletta said. "Obviously, you don't expect to go 6-0, but when we got to two wins in each series, each one of us knew what we had to do to get the job done and we had the utmost confidence in one another to do just that."

"Lancaster is a great ballclub, Stockton was a great ballclub, but these guys right here are something special," Nuts manager Mitch Canham told the crowd of 3,329. "I'm proud of each and every one of these guys."

The Nuts wasted no time grabbing the lead in Game 3 of the best-of-5 Finals. Jordan Cowan hit a leadoff double in the bottom of the first inning, then stole third and scored on a throwing error by catcher Chris Rabago. Modesto quickly made it 2-0 as top Mariners prospect Kyle Lewis singled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Curletta. 

Lancaster got a run back in the third on an RBI single by Rockies No. 8 prospect Garrett Hampson, but the Nuts regained a two-run cushion in the fourth after Curletta doubled and came around to score on a base knock by Luis Liberato

That was all the support that Robert Dugger and the rest of the Nuts needed. Dugger (1-0) allowed a run on four hits and two walks while striking out four over 5 2/3 innings to earn his first postseason win. 

Complete playoff coverage

The teams traded zeros until the seventh, when Modesto broke it open. After tacking on a run on a single by Cal League playoff MVP Joe Rizzo, Arturo Nieto delivered the knockout blow with a three-run homer.

"It was exciting. I was coming in from third base and watched the ball go over the fence and when I got to the dugout, we all kind of lost it," Curletta said. "You don't want to sit there and think you have it in the bag, but we knew we did what we needed to in that inning to put ourselves in a position to win it."

The RBI single capped an impressive postseason by Rizzo, who was promoted from Class A Clinton with five games left in the regular season. In five playoff games, the 19-year-old infielder batted .538 with a homer and six RBIs. 

"It feels great," Rizzo said. "These guys brought me in with five games left to play and I can't say anything but thanks for bringing me in and letting me help this team out."

An inning later, Donnie Walton put the game further out of reach when he singled home Cowan. 

Art Warren -- the Nuts' fourth pitcher -- struck out three around a double in the ninth, fanning Wes Rogers to set off the celebration. 

Michael Leboff is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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