The Idaho Falls Chukars took the field for 82 games this season, the maximum any Pioneer League team can play. In many years, that would equate to a championship.
They fell one win short.
The Chukars fell to the Missoula Osprey 8-1 in Wednesday night’s winner-take-all championship series game in front of 1,178 fans at Ogren-Allegiance Park in Missoula, Mont. Missoula captured its fourth Pioneer League championship, and its second over Idaho Falls. The Osprey beat the Chukars in 2006, as well.
“Who wanted it more than these guys? Nobody did, nobody did,” Osprey manager Joe Mather told The Missoulian, shortly before taking an icewater bath and unveiling a banner. “This is the best team I’ve ever been a part of. I’m so proud of these guys. It was a team effort the entire way.”
Missoula has now won Pioneer League titles in 1999, 2006, 2012 and 2015.
The Chukars were vying for their second league title. The first came in 2013.
On Wednesday, I.F. took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth and had a chance to score more. But they left the bases loaded. In the bottom half of the inning, Missoula scored three runs, and it never relinquished the lead.
The Osprey scored one in the fifth and four in the sixth to build an insurmountable lead.
Some of the lights went out at Ogren-Allegiance Park right before the ninth inning started, forcing a 20-minute delay, according to The Missoulian, the Chukars and the Osprey. Third baseman Jose Martinez led the inning off with a single, but the Chukars couldn’t get anything else going, and the Osprey celebrated their title.
Counting playoffs, I.F. finished 2015 with a 41-41 record. After the Chukars’ 13-25 first half, getting to the playoffs felt almost unfathomable. But they flipped their first half record in the second half and held off Ogden for the second half division title. I.F.’s 25-13 second half record is its best half since becoming a Royals affiliate in 2004.
The Chukars took the Pioneer League South championship series over Orem in dramatic fashion. They had a chance to sweep in Game 2, but they gave up four runs in the final two innings. Game 3 went to extra innings, and I.F. prevailed 4-3 in 10.
I.F. gave up a team-high 17 runs in an eight-run loss to Missoula in Game 1 of the championship series at Melaleuca Field, but the Chukars bounced back with a 5-3 win at Missoula on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the Chukars hoped to end the season with a 42-40 record and their second championship trophy in three years. Instead, 41-41 and a magical season that fell just short.
Note: With a double and a walk Wednesday night, Chukars second baseman D.J. Burt finished the season with a 60-game on-base streak. That’s the best in affiliated baseball this season, according to the Chukars.
Bill Speltz of The Missoulian contributed to this report