OGDEN -- The disappointment was palpable as Ogden Raptors players ambled into the clubhouse after their 10-0 loss last week to the Missoula Osprey in Game 3 of the Pioneer League Championship Series.
But amid the hung heads and somber chatter, Ross Stripling stood by his locker, brushing past the letdown of the lost title with an upbeat tone, and unfurled a timeworn platitude that in this case was true -- it had still been a great season for the Raptors.
"We had a lot of guys do a lot of great things," Stripling said. "We had a lot of good guys on the mound and at the plate. Overall, you can't be disappointed. Right now it's going to hurt, but we're going to look back and know that we came that close to making it and that it was a good ride. It just ended not in our favor."
Yes, Ogden fell one game short in its quest for the franchise's first Pioneer League title, but the Raptors' list of season accomplishments wasn't short on much else.
The Raptors this year tied the team record for wins in a season with 44, won both halves of the Pioneer League South Division, reached the Championship Series for the fourth time and even won a game in the title series, something they had never before done.
"The kids battled all year," said Raptors manager Damon Berryhill. "They all improved a bunch from the start of the season. Coming out of extended (spring training), I was looking at this crew, and I thought we were going to have a tough go. ... I'm proud of the kids."
Apart from the team accomplishments, the Raptors had several standout players, many of whom might soon be seen in Los Angeles Dodgers blue.
Perhaps the most impressive Raptor this season was shortstop Corey Seager. The Dodgers selected the 18-year-old with the 18th overall pick of this summer's MLB draft, and it didn't take long for Seager to make his presence felt.
"Seager's going to be an unbelievable player," Stripling said. "You can tell just by watching him."
The first first-rounder the Raptors have had since 2006, Seager finished with a .309/.383/.520 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) line, which is an impressive accomplishment for an 18-year-old in a league with an average age around 21. "Even though he's a talented kid, there's a lot to learn about pro ball," Berryhill said. "The steps he made from Day 1 to now have been big leaps. The kid's intelligent, he retains well, and there's a big ceiling for that kid."
Other Raptors stars included Jeremy Rathjen (.324/.443/.500), Eric Smith (.336/.417/.492) and Stripling, who finished with a 1.24 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 361/3 innings.
The Pioneer League schedule now over, some Raptors will head to the Fall Instructional League, where their seasons will continue, and others will now begin a long offseason. But for some Raptors, the loss to Missoula was the last professional game they'll ever play.
"It's weird, you know?" Stripling said. "In college, you always knew you were going to get to come back next year. But here, you don't really know that. Some of these guys are 25 or 26, taking care of families and need money -- they don't know if they're going to be able to come back next year. They don't know if the organization will invite them back. It's weird knowing it could be your last day."
As for the Raptors manager, the end of the season is always difficult for Berryhill, who over the course of the season forms bonds with many of the players.
"It's tough, especially when you get used to being around a group of kids who show up and compete for you every day and want to get better," Berryhill said. "Season's over, and it's a bitter taste. You sit there saying, 'If we had another month, we could keep improving and really get to the point where we want to get.' "
Despite all the accomplishments from the season, and the anticipation of whatever comes next for each player, the Raptors will long feel the sting of the last loss to Missoula. The chance to win a championship -- whether it's a rookie-league title or a World Series -- motivates players through a long season, and failing to capture the title means the season goal will remain unfinished.
"It's a bitter pill," Berryhill said. "This is what you play for. If you get to the big leagues, and you're fortunate enough to get championship time and World Series time. I've been there -- I've lost a World Series. It sticks with you your whole life. But it's what the game's all about."