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Emerson, Montes, Arroyo power Modesto Nuts to California League Championship Series
Colt Emerson
Modesto Nuts shortstop and Seattle Mariners' #4 ranked prospect Colt Emerson takes a swing during Tuesday's playoff game against the San Jose Giants at John Thurman Field (Photo by Chris Estrada/Modesto Nuts).

For the first time since 2017, the Modesto Nuts are heading to the California League Championship following a two-game sweep of the San Jose Giants this week. 

On Tuesday night, nearly 2,000 fans packed John Thurman Field in Modesto for Game 1, a 10-inning marathon that ended in a 6-5 victory. On Thursday night at Excite Ballpark in San Jose, the Nuts cruised to a dominant 13-4 series-clinching win. 

Tuesday’s playoff opener in Modesto was an atmosphere that 18-year-old Colt Emerson hadn’t quite experienced in his career.

Emerson, a shortstop, was selected by the Seattle Mariners with the 22nd overall pick in July’s MLB Draft out of John Glenn High School in Ohio. The organization's #4 ranked prospect was promoted to Modesto on Aug. 23. Tuesday was just his 16th game with the Single-A squad. In the bottom of the 10th inning, he dug into the batter’s box with two outs and the bases loaded. On the ninth pitch from San Jose reliever Marques Johnson, he drove the ball over center fielder Turner Hill’s head to send his team home with a 1-0 series. He was quickly mobbed by teammates at second base, who tore his jersey and undershirt off and showered him water.

“I stuck to my approach. I was just trying to put the ball in play that they couldn’t field,” Emerson explained. “Luckily, it was like a 10-pitch at-bat and I got the job done. I’m happy about it and happy to help my team win.”

Prior to Emerson’s heroics, outfielder Lazaro Montes set the table In the bottom of the ninth. The 18-year-old Montes, wearing the colors of his native Cuba on his arm sleeve, sent a ball over the wall in left center field to tie the game at 5. He flexed his arm showcasing the Cuban flag-themed arm sleeve to the crowd. In the top of the 10th, Seattle’s #12 ranked prospect showed off the arm again, this time by throwing out a runner at third base on the fly from right field.

In Thursday’s clincher, Emerson picked up right where he left off, going 3 for 6 with 3 RBI. Also contributing was Mariners’ #5 prospect Michael Arroyo. The 18-year-old Colombian infielder went 5 for 5 with a home run and 4 RBI.

The Nuts will play Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. The first game of the Championship Series will be Sunday at 5:05 p.m. from John Thurman Field. 

It is a place that Emerson and Montes have grown fond of. Following Tuesday’s walkoff, they were the last players to return to the clubhouse as he took nearly 15 minutes to take photos and sign autographs for the fans.

“C’mon man,” Montes said, shaking his head, staring into the grandstands with a large smile. “These fans are the best, man.”

Emerson shared similar sentiments, explaining that his interaction with professional ballplayers in the past as a child has inspired him to spend as much time with the fans as possible.

“When I was a kid, I’ve had guys who didn’t give me any time, so I try to spend as much time with these kids,” he said. “They’re out here taking time out of their day supporting and cheering for me. I just appreciate them and what they’re doing… I’ve enjoyed every second of it. I’ve enjoyed my time here. I’m happy that I have the support from the fans that I do.”

First-year Nuts manager Zach Vincej has been impressed with the character displayed by his players, most who have been with the team for just a short while. 11 players on the current roster were drafted back in July, while another five are international signees promoted this year from the Arizona Complex League.

“We have a revolving door, as you can tell from this year. We have a brand new lineup compared to game one [of the season],” Vincej said, referring to the fact that players like Cole Young, Josh Hood, Gabriel Gonzalez and Brandon Schaeffer have been promoted to High-A Everett. “Everything has been smooth sailing. I think everyone has that personality of coming in and wanting to work and wanting to compete, and it makes our job as staff members really easy. Having them come in and knowing what our culture is and what we’re all about is huge.”

Vincej believes that the motivation and enthusiasm of wanting to get better has been a major factor in his team’s success, particularly in the second half of the season where a 16-game winning streak and a 17-2 record to end the regular season helped them clinch the playoff berth.

“We’ve said it a few times. This is a pretty special group,” Vincej said. “Talent-wise, the camaraderie with everyone and just that everyone’s on the same page, that’s really hard to come by, especially in the minor leagues.”

As for what it's going to take to bring back another California League title to Modesto, Emerson is keeping the game plan simple.

“Score more runs than the other team,” he joked. “Right now, it’s one game at a time, one pitch at a time, and we’re going out and competing.”