From last to best: Chukars title driven by pitching


The two guys who pitched the Idaho Falls Chukars to the 2013 Pioneer League championship started the year by nearly pitching themselves out of baseball.

The turnaround of left-hander Jonathan Dziedzic and righty Jake Junis helps explain more than anything how the Chukars clinched their seventh league championship with a 6-0 win over the Helena Brewers on Tuesday night at Kindrick Legion Field in Helena, Mont.

Dziedzic, a 6-foot, 165-pounder from Humble, Texas, got the Chukars off to a good start against Helena, dominating the Brewers on Saturday, pitching six shutout innings (two hits, one walk, eight strikeouts) as the Chukars held on for a 2-1 win at Melaleuca Field.

Junis, a 6-3, 210-pounder from Rock Falls, Ill., put the finishing touches on the championship series Tuesday, blanking the Brewers over five innings of three-hit ball while striking out eight in a 6-0 win.

Those performances under pressure would have been hard to predict back in June, when Pioneer League teams were battering the duo for 16 earned runs on 26 hits over 16 innings when the Chukars got off to a 4-12 start.

“The difference between the early-season pitching and the pitching over the last month is huge,” Idaho Falls general manager Kevin Greene said. “We were 4-12 with good offense, but we didn’t have the pitching. The guys were so solid all through the second half.”

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The Bird is the Word: Chukars blank Brewers 6-0 for Pioneer League Championship


Idaho Falls’ Jake Junis delivers a pitch Tuesday during the deciding Pioneer League championship game in Helena, Mont. James Ridle / Blackfoot Media Group

The Idaho Falls Chukars had the best offense in the Pioneer League during the regular season, but it was their pitching that made them champions.

Jacob Junis, Kyle Bartsch and Glenn Sparkman combined to shut down the Helena Brewers offense Tuesday night, getting 16 of the Chukars’ 27 outs by strikeout as Idaho Falls came away with a 6-0 win in Game 3 of the Pioneer League championship series.

It was Idaho Falls’ first Pioneer League championship since 2000, the first for the team called the “Chukars,” and the seventh in the history of the franchise.

Junis tossed five shutout innings and limited the Brewers to just three hits, striking out eight one day after celebrating his 21st birthday. Yender Caramo was scheduled to get the Tuesday start, but was scratched with arm soreness.

“He came out and he did a great job for us tonight and came up big, especially in a special moment,” Idaho Falls skipper Omar Ramirez said.

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Brewers hold off Chukars rally to force winner-take-all game 3

Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Cody Stubbs gets the force out Monday during a 7-5 loss to the Helena Brewers during Game 2 of the Pioneer League Championship series. Photo courtesy Helena Independent Record












By Zac Vierra

After managing just one run in the first game of the series, the Helena Brewers wasted no time getting the offense rolling in Game 2.

The Brewers exploded for six runs in the first inning and that would be the difference as Helena held on to beat Idaho Falls 7-5 to tie the best-of-three series at one game apiece.

Facing elimination, the Brewers’ bats jumped on Pioneer League All-Star Patrick Conroy right out of the gate.

Omar Garcia and Dionis Hinojosa started the game with back-to-back singles, and Michael Ratterree drove them both in when he hit a double off the wall in left field.

Ratterree would later score when Clint Coulter hit into a fielder’s choice.

With two outs and runners on the corners, Angel Ortega delivered with a two-run double to give Helena a 5-0 lead.

Nathan Orf followed with a single up the box to give the Brewers a 6-0 advantage as they batted around in the first frame.

“They came out and did a great job in the first inning.,” Helena manager Tony Diggs said. “They scored a lot of runs, the approach was good. They put the ball in play the way we had talked about and they kept their approach.”

Conroy would settle in and keep the Chukars in the game tossing five scoreless innings the rest of the way, but he was ultimately handed the loss.

“(Conroy) made a couple mistakes pitching, but I think defensively we made a couple of errors and a double play that we should have turned there and we didn’t a couple things like that on defense,” Idaho Falls manager Omar Ramirez. said. “We lost the game in the first inning. It would have been a different story if they didn’t score those six runs.”

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Dziedzic leads Chukars to 2-1 win over Brewers to start championship series


Carlos Garcia looks up to the second base umpire for confirmation after getting tagged out during an attempted steal by Angel Ortega of the Helena Brewers on Saturday during the first game of the Pioneer League championship playoffs at Melaleuca Field. Pat Sutphin /

If it wasn’t for a pitch count, Idaho Falls left-hander Jonathan Dziedzic might still be dealing.

The Chukars starter was efficiently dominant during Game 1 of the Pioneer League championship series Saturday at Melaleuca Field, tossing six shutout innings before handing off to the bullpen. Three relievers followed Dziedzic’s lead, helping Idaho Falls grab a 2-1 win over the Helena Brewers and move one win away from its first league title since 2000.

“That guy knows how to pitch,” Idaho Falls manager Omar Ramirez said. “He doesn’t have anything overpowering, a great fastball or a great curveball, but he throws strikes and he knows how to pitch. That’s why he was pitching the first game — we trust that he’s going to give us quality innings.”

He nearly gave the Chukars six perfect innings Saturday.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder who was a 13th-round draft pick this spring out of Lamar University, faced the minimum number of hitters through five innings. After giving up a single to the second batter he faced, he retired the next nine. The next man to reach was Brewers third-place hitter Michael Ratterree, who walked with two outs in the fourth. Ratterree was picked off before cleanup hitter Adam Giacalone saw a pitch.

Dziedzic finished by striking out four of the final seven batters he faced and left with a 2-0 lead.

“We came in with a good game plan, and whatever I put down he was pretty much hitting the glove,” Chukars catcher Frank Schwindel said. “He made it real easy for us to stick to the plan, and he makes it look easy.”

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Chukars look for series lead in game one


As the 2012 Pioneer League season closed without playoffs yet again, Idaho Falls Chukars general manager Kevin Greene and team owner Dave Elmore were at a crossroads.

Would they stay with the Kansas City Royals, the team that had filled Idaho Falls’ rosters since the early 2000s, or find another major league team that would treat Chukars fans with more talent?

“Every time an agreement comes up, there are concerns on both sides,” Greene said Friday. “We want to put a winning team on the field. The (major league team) wants a good environment to develop their players. For the most part, we felt like we’ve lived up to our end of the bargain.”

And for the first time in more than a decade, the Royals lived up to theirs.

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Pioneer League championship series tickets on sale


Tickets for Game 1 of the Pioneer League championship series between the Idaho Falls Chukars and Helena Brewers, which begins Saturday at Melaleuca Field, are now on sale.

Fans can purchase tickets at the ballpark or by calling the Chukars at 522-8363. General admission tickets can also be purchased by visiting

The Chukars and Brewers played seven times this year, the last coming July 19 at Melaleuca Field. Helena won the season series 4-3, averaging 7.5 runs per game in the four wins. Idaho Falls was also explosive in its wins, averaging 11 runs per game in the three victories.

Idaho Falls set its season high for runs in a 17-6 win July 18. The Chukars pounded out 21 hits in that win, including a home run from right fielder Elier Hernandez, who belted three homers and drove in 11 runs against Helena during the regular season.

First baseman/catcher Frank Schwindel feasted on Helena pitching this season, batting .481 (13 of 27) with four doubles, a home run and seven RBIs in seven games. Shortstop Humberto Arteaga also hammered the Brewers, hitting .382 (13 of 34) with four doubles, five RBIs and nine runs scored. As a team, the Chukars batted .312 with 24 doubles and six home runs and 35 RBIs over seven games.

Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) of the best-of-3 series are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in Helena, Mont. For information on tickets to those games, call (406) 495-0500.

Chukars win South Division series over Grand Junction, advance to Pioneer League championship v. Brewers


Chukars starting pitcher Yender Caramo winds up during Wednesday's playoff game against the Grand Junction Rockies. Gretel Daugherty / Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

At Grand Junction, Colo., a season that got off to a disappointing start will end in the Pioneer League championship series.

The Idaho Falls Chukars, who stumbled out of the gate to start this season, bounced back from an afternoon loss to beat the Grand Junction Rockies 5-2 in the deciding game of the best-of-3 South Division playoff series Wednesday night. The win sends Idaho Falls into the best-of-3 championship series against North Division champion Helena. Game 1 is at 7:15 p.m. Saturday night at Melaleuca Field. Game 2 and Game 3 (if neccessary) are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in Helena.

Grand Junction stayed alive in the afternoon, winning Game 2, which was postponed by rain Tuesday night, 7-1. The Rockies’ good vibes continued early in Game 3 as the home team took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on Ryan McMahon’s home run to left field off Chukars starter Yender Caramo.

That was the end of the highlights for the Rockies.

Caramo settled down after the rough first inning, allowing just the two runs on two hits and a walk while striking out six in seven innings. Lefty reliever Kyle Bartsch got the final six outs, four by strikeout, to close out the win and send the Chukars to the Pioneer League championship series for the first time since 2006. Idaho Falls’ last championship came in 2000.

“He throws strikes, he’s a smart pitcher and he competes,” Idaho Falls manager Omar Ramirez said of Caramo. “That’s his strength, he has heart.”

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Chukars-Rockies rained out in Grand Junction


Three days of unseasonably wet weather in western Colorado has pushed Game 2 of the Pioneer League South Division playoff series back to today, though it is unclear if the weather will hold for today’s scheduled doubleheader between the Grand Junction Rockies and Idaho Falls Chukars.

The infield tarp at Sam Suplizio Field has kept the infield game-ready, but with standing puddles in various spots in the outfield, Tuesday’s game was cancelled early in the day and rescheduled for 2:05 p.m. today. Today’s scheduled 7:05 game, if necessary, would be part of a rare playoff doubleheader.

“We’ve had more rain here in the past two days than I’ve seen in the past two years I’ve been here,” Grand Junction assistant general manager Mike Ruvulo said.

Grand Junction has received 0.8-inches of rain over the past 72 hours, which is three-quarters of the city’s monthly average September precipitation.

The forecast for today is for more rain, though most of it is expected to blow through prior to the start of Game 2. Ruvulo said his grounds crew assured him the field will be ready to go prior to the scheduled first pitch of the matinee.

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Chukars open playoffs with 7-1 win


Idaho Falls' Humberto Arteaga tries to tag out Jordan Patterson of the Grand Junction Rockies at second base during the first game of the playoffs Saturday at Melaleuca Field. Pat Sutphin /

It took the Idaho Falls Chukars six years to get back into the Pioneer League playoffs. It took them one inning to get all the runs they would need to secure their first playoff win since Sept. 10, 2006.

Chukars starter Jonathan Dziedzic worked out of a jam in the top of the first inning, his teammates took advantage of two Grand Junction errors to score three unearned runs in the bottom of the inning and Idaho Falls cruised to a 7-1 win in the opening game of its best-of-three series in front of 1,271 fans at Melaleuca Field.

It was that kind of night for the Rockies, who outhit the Chukars 6-5 but were hurt by eight errors, had three runners picked off first base and another one caught stealing.

“(The Rockies) did a good job pitching, but the defense didn’t help,” Chukars manager Omar Ramirez said. “But that’s the thing, you’ve got to make plays. They didn’t, we did.”

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Owlz win battle of the birds

The Idaho Falls Chukars clinched a spot in the Pioneer League’s playoffs three days earlier, but Saturday’s game against the Orem Owlz provided the team an opportunity to celebrate ending its long playoff drought with the home fans at Melaleuca Field.

Orem, the team the Chukars beat out for South Division second-half title last week, stole some of the glow with a 9-4 win in front of 3,095 fans. But Idaho Falls’ body of work far outweighed a loss in a meaningless game.

Runs by Humberto Arteaga and Hunter Dozier put the Chukars (41-34, 22-15) ahead 2-0 after the first inning, but Orem (38-36, 18-18) immediately bounced back in the third inning as Michael Fish, Eric Aguliera and Kody Eames scored to give the Owlz a lead that would only grow.

Seven Chukars recorded a hit, all singles except for a sixth-inning RBI double by Frank Schwindel. Matt Tenuta (1-1) took the loss, allowing five runs on eight hits while walking one and striking out two in five innings of work.

Saturday was the first home game for the Chukars since clinching the organization’s first playoff bid since 2007 on Wednesday in Orem. Manager Omar Ramirez said pitching was the biggest factor behind Idaho Falls’ turnaround from a 4-11 start to winning the South Division.

“We knew the talent that we had,” Ramirez said. “In the first half, we were last in the league in pitching. In the second half, it was a completely different story. We’ve had ups and downs, but we’ve had more ups in the second half.”

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