Category: Game recap

Marten Gasparini provides spark in Chukars’ 11-7 win

Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Marten Gasparini tags out Brendon Sanger, of the Orem Owlz, as Sanger tries to slide into second base Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Marten Gasparini tags out Brendon Sanger, of the Orem Owlz, as Sanger tries to slide into second base Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Marten Gasparini fouled a ball off of his right ankle. He grimaced and limped, but he stepped back into the batter’s box.

Two pitches later, the Idaho Falls Chukars’ shortstop hit another ball off of his right ankle. This time, he fell to the ground.

“It couldn’t have been more accurate the second time it hit,” Gasparini said.

But Gasparini limped back into the box. On the next pitch, he lined a single to center field.

“The adrenaline kept me going,” Gasparini said.

The Italian switch-hitter followed up a 2 for 4 performance on Tuesday against the Orem Owlz with a 3 for 4, two-triple performance against Orem on Wednesday. He was a key cog in the Chukars’ 11-7 win Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.

“We wanted this game really bad,” Gasparini said. “My effort today was just one of many.”

Gasparini told the Post Register after Tuesday’s game that he was hard on himself in the first half. He was overthinking. The results showed: a team-low .276 on-base percentage, Pioneer League-highs in errors (17) and strikeouts (56).

Thanks to some advice and counseling from his coaches, Gasparini — the Kansas City Royals’ 17th best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline — believes he’s in a better head space, and the early results (two games into the second half) have shown.

“He’s a great kid, he’s a hard worker, he’s always asking questions and trying to get better,” Chukars’ manager Justin Gemoll said. “Now you’re seeing the results on the field.”

Gasparini’s first triple came in the bottom of the fourth. It drove in two runs and gave the Chukars a 3-2 lead in what would be a five-run inning. Gasparini drove in another run with his second triple in the Chukars’ four-run fifth inning, when they took a 9-3 lead.

Gasparini did have two errors in the game, however.

Chukars’ left-handed pitcher Hunter Haynes made his first start in 20 days, and it began like his first five.

Haynes gave up two runs in the top of the first, albeit one earned run due to a Gasparini error. Haynes gave up four or five earned runs in each of his previous five starts, where his ERA was 11.50. He moved to the bullpen for three appearances, where his ERA was 4.50 (Gemoll said Haynes’ move to the bullpen was not performance-based, but due to rest and Idaho Falls’ new pitchers).

Haynes settled down after the first, pitching three straight scoreless innings on two hits and a walk. He struck out a batter in his four innings, and his ERA fell from 9.35 to 8.40.

Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman D.J. Burt throws to first during a game against the Orem Owlz on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman D.J. Burt throws to first during a game against the Orem Owlz on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

“I was just more relaxed,” Haynes said. “When I’m relaxed, I can trust what I’m able to do and locate better. Early in the year, I put too pressure on myself early. After a couple outings in the bullpen, it made it a little easier to come back and start a game because I didn’t have to get popped so early.”

The Chukars compiled 15 hits and every hitter reached base, with five having multi-hit games. Those five were second baseman D.J. Burt (2 for 5, three runs), right fielder Amalani Fukofuka (2 for 5), Roman Collins (2 for 5), designated hitter Brawlun Gomez (2 for 4) and third baseman Jeckson Flores (2 for 4, double).

The Chukars (14-26) host the Ogden Raptors (20-20) for a two-game series starting tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Chukars fall just short against Orem

Idaho Falls' Marten Gasparini makes the tag on Orem's Michael Pierson during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ Marten Gasparini makes the tag on Orem’s Michael Pierson during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Cody Jones thought he was going to tie the game with an inside-the-park home run.

The Idaho Falls center fielder hit a line drive to center in the bottom of the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game against the Orem Owlz, who led 5-4 with two outs at the time. The ball slipped under Michael Hermosillo’s glove and rolled to the wall. Jones, arguably the fastest Chukars player, had been hustling out of the batter’s box.

Manager and third base coach Justin Gemoll didn’t hesitate to send Jones home. But the relay throw reached home plate well before Jones did, and catcher Taylor Ward tagged Jones out to end the game.

Jones knelt at home plate for seconds after the out, hands on his head.

“It sucks to end the game like that,” Jones said.

The Chukars (13-26) were aggressive all night at Melaleuca Field, but the first game of the season’s second half ended like so many games from Idaho Falls’ first half: a little short.

“If I could do it again, I’d do it again,” Gemoll said of the final play. “Force them to make a play, and they did. Hats off to them.”

Idaho Falls' Derek Gordon delivers a pitch during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ Derek Gordon delivers a pitch during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Derek Gordon continued his strong season. The right-handed pitcher went seven innings (84 pitches), giving up two runs (both earned) on nine hits and one walk with two strikeouts. His outing is the longest by any Chukars pitcher this season. Idaho Falls’ previous longest was the six-inning start June 28 by Carlos Herrera, who was released by the Kansas City Royals on July 16.

Gordon has not given up more than two earned runs in any of his last four starts. His season ERA is now 3.68, and he’s pitched the most innings (36.2) of any Idaho Falls pitcher. Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan has been impressed with Gordon’s ability to keep his pitches down in the strike zone.

“He throws his fastball to both sides of the plate,” Suppan said. “Tonight, his slider was not as good early but it got better late. That’s the patience part of it.”

Chukars shortstop Marten Gasparini is hoping the second half will reboot his performance.

The 18-year-old finished the first half with a team-worst .276 on-base percentage and Pioneer League-highs in errors (17) and strikeouts (56). He had multi-hit performances in seven of the Chukars’ 38 first-half games.

“I was being kind of hard on myself, I was thinking too much,” Gasparini said.

On Tuesday, Gasparini went 2 for 4, including a two-out triple in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game 1-1.

“I’ve talked a lot with my coaches about my mindset in general,” Gasparini said. “Me and us, as a team, in the second half must restart. Restart our mindset, forget about the past, keep going forward with a positive mindset. That’s what I tried to do today. Just keep it simple and put my barrel on the ball.”

Charlie Chukar signs autographs during a break in the action at Melaleuca Field Tuesday night. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Charlie Chukar signs autographs during a break in the action at Melaleuca Field Tuesday night. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Jones went 4 for 5, upping his batting average to .325 in 77 at-bats with Idaho Falls. He also hit his first triple since joining the Chukars on July 4. He was a bad throw away from getting his first home run with the team, and his first inside-the-parker since he was a kid.

The Chukars have now lost eight games by two runs or fewer this season.

The Pioneer League South Division’s first-half champion Owlz (25-14) go for a three-game series sweep of the Chukars at 7:15 tonight.

First half ends with silent bats for Chukars

By JEFF PINKHAM
jpinkham@postregister.com

A rough first half of the Pioneer League season ended with a thud for the Idaho Falls Chukars on Monday at Melaleuca Field.

The Chukars wrapped up a rough opening stretch with another loss, falling 5-0 to the South Division first-half champion Orem Owlz in front of a crowd of 1,566 fans on a chilly night at the ballpark. Idaho Falls finished the first half with a 13-25 record, 11 games behind Orem and six games behind third-place Ogden in the four-team South Division.

Idaho Falls’ offense was as cold as the breeze blowing in at Melaleuca. The Chukars managed just a walk from Roman Collins in the first, a Collins single off the foot of Orem pitcher Jeff Malm in the fourth and a walk from Marten Gasparini in the fifth. Orem also turned two double plays and the Chukars finished with just one man left on base — Gasparini made it to third with two outs before Ryan Dale struck out to end I.F.’s lone threat.

“You have to tip your hat to their guys,” Idaho Falls manager Justin Gemoll said. “They established the fastball early, they changed speeds and they kept us off-balance all night. We hit a few balls hard right at somebody. Other than that we really didn’t get a chance to get anything going.”

Four Owlz combined on the one-hitter. Starter Jared Ruxer pitched a hitless first, followed by five dominant innings from lefty Jeff Malm (one hit, one walk, six strikeouts). Aaron Cox (two innings) and Ronnie Glenn (one inning) finished it off.

Collins, a 2015 fifth-round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic, had the lone hit for I.F. His soft liner up the middle caught the foot of Malm and bounced to the right of shortstop Juan Moreno, who stopped the ball with a dive but couldn’t get Collins at first. The only other close call came in the sixth, when second baseman Hutton Moyer made a nice play on a hard-hit ball by Cody Jones.

Fortunately for the Chukars, today is a new day. The Pioneer League awards playoff berths to the first half and second half division winners, meaning Idaho Falls’ rough first half can quickly be forgotten.

“Let’s come back in the second half and get after it,” Gemoll said. “These guys are all competitors and they’re anxious to get to the playoffs. They’ll come out like gangbusters tomorrow.”

Idaho Falls and Orem play the second game of their three-game series at 7:15 tonight at Melaleuca Field. Ogden hits town to begin a quick two-game series Thursday.

SUNDAY’S GAME: The Chukars got a strong start from Todd Eaton and avoided a sweep in Orem, Utah, with a 4-2 victory over the South Division first-half champs.

Idaho Falls got an early lead when Cody Jones knocked home Ryan Dale, who led off the third with a triple. The Owlz tied the game on Kenny Towns RBI single in the fifth.

The Chukars regained the lead in the sixth, getting a leadoff double from Amalani Fukofuka and an RBI single from Roman Collins. Logan Nottebrok added a two-run single later in the inning.

Eaton was solid, giving up one unearned run on four hits with one walk and two strikeouts in five innings. Second-round pick Josh Staumont allowed an earned run on three hits over 2.2 innings, while Brandon Thomas notched his first save with 1.1 innings of scoreless relief.

Fourth inning derails Chukars in 10-4 loss to Orem

The Idaho Falls Chukars looked like they’d weather another shaky start from left-handed pitcher Dylan Sons.

Drew Milligan was excellent in relief of Sons, preserving a 3-3 lead headed into the fourth inning.

But fellow lefty Tripp Davis couldn’t replicate Milligan’s success, and the defense committed two errors, resulting in a seven-run fourth inning for Orem. That’s all the Owlz would need in a 10-4 win Friday night at Brent Brown Ballpark.

The Chukars scored first, plating two on doubles from left fielder Roman Collins and right fielder Amalani Fukofuka, who drove in both runs.

But Sons had another poor first inning, only this time, he didn’t advance to the second. Sons gave up three runs (all earned) on one hit and two walks by the time he was replaced by Milligan with two outs in the opening frame. Sons had gone at least three innings in his previous six starts.

In six of his seven starts this season, Sons has given up at least one run in the first inning. He’s allowed an average of 2.14 runs in the opening frame. His season ERA is now 10.80 on 53 hits, 14 walks and 21 strikeouts in 26.2 innings pitched.

The Chukars tied the game in the second inning. Second baseman Jeckson Flores reached on a fielder’s choice, stole his ninth base of the season and scored on a single by center fielder Cody Jones, who went 3 for 4 on the night.

The side-armer Davis relieved Milligan to start the fourth. Davis gave up a run early, but he got two outs with a runner on third. The next five batters he faced: walk, single, double, single, single. Four runs scored in that span, and Davis was relieved by right-hander Brian Bayliss.

Two more runs scored off errors by shortstop Marten Gasparini (who leads the Pioneer League with 15 errors) and Flores, completing Idaho Falls’ miserable fourth.

Milligan, Bayliss and lefty Matt Portland combined to throw 6.2 scoreless innings on six hits, two walks (both by Milligan) and six strikeouts. Portland didn’t allow a baserunner in his 2.1 innings pitched.

Fukofuka went 2 for 3 with a walk, Logan Nottebrok went 2 for 4 and Gasparini went 1 for 4 with a triple.

The Chukars (12-22) face the Owlz (22-13) in the third game of their-four game series tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Chukars play well but lose to Orem 3-2 in walkoff fashion

The Idaho Falls Chukars committed few mistakes against the Orem Owlz on Thursday night.

But a couple of bad pitches and a passed ball spelled the Chukars’ doom in their 3-2 loss, which Orem won in walkoff fashion at Brent Brown Ballpark.

The Chukars got on the board first in the top of the first inning. Shortstop Jeckson Flores hit a leadoff double to left field and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman DJ Burt. Two batters later, first baseman Josh Banuelos reached on an error by left fielder Jared Foster, allowing Flores to score.

But the lead quickly disappeared. Three singles and two stolen bases off Chukars starting pitcher Derek Gordon resulted in a 2-1 lead for Orem after the first.

Gordon.
Gordon.

Gordon settled down after the slow start. On the night, he gave up four hits, one walk and two earned runs with six strikeouts in five innings. In his last three starts, Gordon has gone 15.1 innings, giving up 13 hits, four earned runs and six walks with 20 strikeouts (2.38 ERA). Gordon’s season ERA is now 3.94, and he’s in the top five among Pioneer League pitchers in strikeouts.

The Chukars tied the game in the sixth. Left fielder Roman Collins led the inning off with a double and scored on a one-out sacrifice fly by right fielder Brawlun Gomez.

In the bottom of the ninth, Chukars left-handed reliever Nick Green should have retired the side in order. Green struck out the first batter looking and got the second batter, Hutton Moyer, to swing at strike three, but catcher Kyle Pollock couldn’t handle the pitch. The passed ball allowed Moyer to advance to first.

Green got the next batter to pop out, bringing up Foster with two outs and Moyer at first. Foster doubled to center field, and the throw home was not in time to get Moyer out, giving Orem the walkoff win.

Idaho Falls outhit Orem 8-6 and didn’t commit a fielding error, while the Owlz committed four. But the Chukars were 0 for 15 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base.

Flores and Pollock each went 2 for 4, while Gomez and third baseman Ryan Dale each went 1 for 3 with a double.

The Chukars (12-22) and the Owlz (21-13) play game two tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Chukars can’t solve Great Falls’ starting pitcher in 5-2 loss

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The Idaho Falls Chukars have scored the Pioneer League’s third most runs per game, at 6.6.

On Tuesday night, right-hander Brannon Easterling made the Chukars look colder than Billings (4.9 runs per game).

Easterling was Tuesday’s starting pitcher for the Great Falls Voyagers. Great Falls’ offense wasn’t superb, but it didn’t matter. Easterling gave up one run in six innings, leading the Voyagers (16-13) to a 5-2 win in the series finale at Melaleuca Field.

The Chukars split the four-game series and went 5-2 on the homestand.

“Hats off to the starting pitcher,” Chukars hitting coach Andre David said. “He was on tonight. You give him credit, and you move on from that.”

Chukars starting pitcher Carter Hope gave up two runs in the first inning, and while he was only charged for one, he had a large hand in both.

Hope gave up a leadoff double to Landon Lassiter, who scored on a fielding error by Hope. A double and a sacrifice fly allowed another run, scored by Johan Cruz, who reached on Hope’s error.

Otherwise, Hope was excellent. The righty went five innings, giving up three runs (one earned) on eight hits, one walk and two strikeouts. His ERA dropped to 2.03 in 13.1 innings with Idaho Falls.

But Hope was overshadowed by Easterling, who allowed one earned run on four hits, no walks and four strikeouts. A solo home run from Chukars catcher Kyle Pollock (1 for 4) was responsible for Easterling’s only run allowed.

“I think we were just swinging at bad pitches and getting behind,” said Chukars third baseman Ryan Dale, who went 0 for 3 with a strikeout. “It wasn’t the pitcher. It was us.”

Easterling worked quickly between pitches, and his effectiveness combined with mistakes by Chukars hitters resulted in quick innings. The game finished in two hours and 29 minutes, despite a slow seventh, eighth and ninth.

“He had good rhythm and tempo, kept the ball down, changed speeds, located well,” David said of Easterling. “He commanded the fastball, and when he needed to go to anything other than that, he had command of that.”

The Chukars cut the deficit to 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh, but a two-run home run from Voyagers catcher Zach Fish off Alberto Rodriguez in the top of the ninth gave Great Falls a 5-2 lead. Those were Rodriguez’s first two earned runs of the season, breaking his 13-inning streak.

Chukars’ left fielder Roman Collins went 2 for 4 with a double, and first baseman Logan Nottebrok went 2 for 3 with a double.

Idaho Falls (12-21) gets today off and travels to Orem for a four-game series starting Thursday.

Logan Nottebrok, pitching lifts Idaho Falls in 5-1 win

Idaho Falls pitcher Daniel Concepcion releases a pitch during Monday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls pitcher Daniel Concepcion releases a pitch during Monday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Logan Nottebrok couldn’t speak a week ago. On Monday night, the first baseman was one of the Idaho Falls Chukars’ offensive stars.

Nottebrok tripled and scored the game-tying run in the sixth inning, then walked to drive in the go-ahead run in the seventh. That run was decisive in the Chukars’ 5-1 win over Great Falls Monday at Melaleuca Field.

“It feels good to hit the ball hard,” Nottebrok said.

Nottebrok has been battling strep throat and pneumonia since the Chukars’ road series against Great Falls from July 7-9. His performance reflected his illness. In three games from July 7-15, Nottebrok went 0 for 10 with a walk. His batting average and slugging percentage going into Monday were each .190 (team-lows).

“My energy’s been a little low, but that’s part of baseball,” said Nottebrok, a 2015 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M. “You have to come out and grind.”

Nottebrok has been guzzling energy drinks and the powdered vitamin drink mix Emergen-C to try to improve his condition. But his voice, while now audible, is hoarse.

Before Friday’s game against Missoula, Chukars hitting coach Andre David worked with Nottebrok on some adjustments: lowering his hands during his batting stance and using his lower body more during his swing. Neither David nor Nottebrok think Nottebrok’s improved performance since then is a coincidence.

Nottebrok went 1 for 4 on Friday with a walk and three hard-hit outs. On Monday, he was a crucial piece in turning Idaho Falls’ one-run deficit into a one-run lead that grew afterwards.

“Selection is better,” David said. “Mentally, I think he feels confident now. He knows if he gets something, he can take a pretty good swing. That’s all we ask.”

Nottebrok’s heroics on Monday would have been inconsequential if not for strong outing by the Chukars’ pitchers.

Great Falls' Antonio Rodriguez slides safely in to second base while Idaho Falls' D.J. Burt tries to make the catch during Monday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Great Falls’ Antonio Rodriguez slides safely in to second base while Idaho Falls’ D.J. Burt tries to make the catch during Monday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Right-hander Daniel Concepcion made his second start for Idaho Falls, going four scoreless innings on four hits, three walks and two strikeouts.

Fellow righty Josh Staumont, who walked five batters in 0.2 innings Thursday against Missoula, was more accurate Monday. He gave up one run (earned) on one hit, two walks and four strikeouts in two innings. His fastball touched 99 miles per hour.

Lefty Hunter Haynes pitched the final three innings and didn’t give up a run. He allowed a hit and two walks while striking out four.

“Especially in this league, guys are going to walk guys. The key is how they bounce back,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “(Pitching coach Jeff Suppan) does a great job with these kids of getting them to trust their stuff and attack the zone.”

Right fielder Brawlun Gomez hit a 453-foot two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth to increase Idaho Falls’ lead to 4-1.

Idaho Falls has now won five of its last six games.

The Chukars (12-20) go for the series victory over the Voyagers (15-13) tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Sunday’s extra-inning thriller

The Orem Owlz’s 7-4 win over Helena on Sunday eliminated the Chukars from first half Pioneer League South Division contention. But the Chukars did all they could to stay alive for at least another day.

Idaho Falls defeated Great Falls 4-3 in Sunday afternoon’s up-and-down, 11-inning contest.

The Chukars took a 2-0 lead into the fifth inning, but Great Falls scored three combined runs in the fifth and sixth to take a 3-2 lead.

With one out in the ninth inning, third baseman Jeckson Flores walked and scored the game-tying run on a double from Pedro Gonzalez, sending it into extra innings.

In the bottom of the 11th, shortstop Marten Gasparini hit a leadoff single and Flores bunted him over. Gasparini then stole third and Gonzalez was intentionally walked. Designated hitter Ryan Dale came up and dropped down a suicide squeeze bunt. It rolled past the pitcher and scored Gasparini for a Chukars victory.

Great Falls snaps Chukars’ three-game winning streak

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The Idaho Falls Chukars had a chance to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games Saturday.

The Great Falls Voyagers stifled any hopes, and they put the Chukars on the brink of first half elimination from the Pioneer League South Division title.

Great Falls jumped all over Idaho Falls’ pitching for a 13-6 win Saturday night at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars (10-20) are now one loss, or one Orem Owlz win, away from first half elimination.

“This setting with the short season, 30 games goes pretty quick,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “You don’t have a chance to go through any kind of bad spell as you would in a major league season, 162 games. But our guys are battling hard and I’m happy with how they’re playing.”

Chukars starting pitcher Dylan Sons began his appearance on fire, striking out the first two batters on seven pitches. But he gave up three straight hits, including a two-run home run to designated hitter Zach Fish.

Sons pitched scoreless second and third innings but ran into a wall in the fourth. Five hits and two walks led to five runs for Great Falls, and it forced Sons out of the game.

Sons has now given up at least four earned runs in five of his six starts this season, increasing his ERA to 10.73.

“They succeeded on my mistakes,” Sons said. “Just getting a little out of my delivery, leaving the ball up, not commanding the strike zone.”

The Voyagers scored six more runs off reliever Brian Bayliss, whose ERA is now 10.22.

Second baseman DJ Burt continued his quiet hot streak. He’s still hitting below .200 (.194, to be exact), where he’s been all season, and he’s gotten five hits in his last 28 at-bats (.179 batting average). But he’s drawn nine walks in that span, giving him 19 on the season (third most in the Pioneer League).

“He’s made some big adjustments over the last three weeks,” Gemoll said. “The other night, he drew three walks and scored four runs. That’s the kind of player he’s gonna have to be at the higher levels.”

Burt, selected by Kansas City in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB draft, walked and hit an RBI single on Saturday to add to his .336 on-base percentage going into the night.

“I’m seeing the ball better now and just being more selective,” Burt said.

Despite the slow start to the season, Gemoll said he’s comfortable 30 games into his first year as the Chukars manager.

First baseman Josh Banuelos drew two walks, but Chukar fans will remember his 447-foot two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the sixth.

Left fielder Roman Collins went 2 for 4 with a double.

“The kids are having a good time, they’re learning and they’re getting after it,” Gemoll said.

The Chukars host the Voyagers (15-11) today at 4 p.m.

Amalani Fukofuka keeps rolling in Chukars’ 13-4 win

Amalani Fukofuka of the Idaho Falls Chukars slides past Missoula Osprey catcher Luke Lowery as he scores the first run of the game Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Photographer Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Amalani Fukofuka of the Idaho Falls Chukars slides past Missoula Osprey catcher Luke Lowery as he scores the first run of the game Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Photographer Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

When outfielder Amalani Fukofuka comes to home plate, Idaho Falls Chukars fans shower him with chants of “Fooooook.”

Fukofuka (pronounced “Fuke-oh-fuke-uh”) has become a fan favorite in his 26 games with the Chukars this season. Part of that is because of his unique last name. Much more of that is a result of his performance.

Fukofuka is hitting .364 this season, with 10 doubles (tied for second in the Pioneer League), three triples (top 10) and six stolen bases (top 20). He continued his season-long tear with a 3 for 5 performance in Friday’s 13-4 win over the Missoula Osprey at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars swept the three-game home series against the Osprey.

“Hopefully I can keep it going,” Fukofuka said.

Chukars starting pitcher Derek Gordon cruised through his first four innings, and he struck out the first two batters of the fifth inning. But a single, double and walk forced him out of the game, preventing the right-hander from his first professional win.

“Especially in this game, it’s more about the team wins,” Gordon said. “(Pitching coach Jeff) Suppan really works with us in trying to keep the ball down and being competitive with every pitch, and that’s mostly what I focus on when a guy comes up.”

Gordon said fatigue got to him in the fifth, and with roughly 80 pitches after the walk, Gordon was nearing his pitch count limit, so manager Justin Gemoll decided to replace him.

“I was frustrated with myself more than anything,” Gordon said.

Fellow right-hander Alberto Rodriguez kept Gordon’s earned run total at one, going 2.1 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Rodriguez has not allowed an earned run in 13 innings pitched this season, despite seven walks (he’s allowed two unearned runs).

Isan Diaz, of the Missoula Osprey, narrowly escapes being tagged out at second by Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Jeckson Flores on Friday at Melaleuca Field.     (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Isan Diaz, of the Missoula Osprey, narrowly escapes being tagged out at second by Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Jeckson Flores on Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

As strong as Fukofuka has been at the plate this season, he hasn’t been perfect. The 19-year-old has drawn four walks despite leading the Chukars with 118 at-bats. He also hasn’t hit a home run this season, and he’s blasted two in his three-year professional career.

“I’m pretty aggressive. That’s partly why I don’t have as many walks as other people,” Fukofuka said. “But that’s fine with me as long as I’m hitting the ball hard.”

Second baseman DJ Burt went 1 for 2 with three walks, giving him a team-high 18 bases on balls. Burt’s patience is a pleasant sign for Idaho Falls’ coaching staff, considering he’s batting .191.

Designated hitter Ryan Dale hit his first professional home run in the top of the eighth, a three-run shot to give Idaho Falls a 13-4 lead.

The Chukars (10-19) host Great Falls (14-11) at 7:15 p.m. tonight for the first game in a four-game series.

O’Hearn promoted

First baseman Ryan O’Hearn moved up from Idaho Falls to the Kansas City Royals short-season Single-A affiliate Lexington to start this season. On Friday, O’Hearn moved up from the Legends to the advanced Single-A Wilmington Blue Rocks.

O’Hearn won the Pioneer League MVP last season with the Chukars. He hit .361 with 13 home runs and a .444 on-base percentage in 249 at-bats for Idaho Falls.

This season in 314 at-bats with Lexington, O’Hearn hit .277 with 19 home runs and a .351 on-base percentage.

Several firsts for Collins, Chukars in 6-4 walkoff win

Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman DJ Burt throws to first during a game against the Missoula Osprey on Thursday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman Jeckson Flores throws to first during a game against the Missoula Osprey on Thursday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Roman Collins has witnessed countless home runs this season, but he hadn’t hit one.

The Idaho Falls Chukars outfielder has seen his share of walkoff home runs in his baseball career, but he hadn’t hit one.

Hadn’t before Thursday night.

In the bottom of the ninth inning with a 4-4 tie, the left-handed Collins crushed a fastball toward the 390-foot sign in right field. The ball narrowly cleared the wall, giving Collins a two-run walkoff blast and Idaho Falls a 6-4 win over the Missoula Osprey at Melaleuca Field.

The home run gave the Chukars their first series victory in seven attempts this season, their first walkoff win of 2015 and a pair of milestones for Collins.

“I definitely got all of it, but I wasn’t sure if I got it high enough,” Collins said. “It worked out.”

Right-handed pitcher Brooks Pounders, who joined the Chukars on Wednesday, began his rehab stint with a scoreless starting performance on Thursday. The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder went three innings, allowing a hit and three walks with four strikeouts.

“Off-speed stuff was definitely there. Fastball command wasn’t,” said Pounders, who pitched 15 innings for the Chukars last season. “Tonight was a little rusty, but nothing we can’t work out.”

Pounders, a 2009 second-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates, was relieved by the Kansas City Royals’ 2015 second-rounder — right-hander Josh Staumont. The Azusa Pacific University product retired the first two batters with ease, reaching as high as 98 miles per hour on the radar gun. Five walks and three wild pitches later, Staumont had given up two runs (both earned) and was replaced by Cruz Guevara.

Idaho Falls Chukars catcher Pedro Gonzalez walks back to home plate after pitcher Cruz Guevara replaces Josh Staumont during a game against the Missoula Osprey on Thursday at Melaleuca Field. Staumont was replaced after walking five players in a row.   (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars catcher Pedro Gonzalez walks back to home plate after pitcher Cruz Guevara replaces Josh Staumont during a game against the Missoula Osprey on Thursday at Melaleuca Field. Staumont was replaced after walking five players in a row. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

“I was confident, I just wasn’t doing what I wanted to do,” Staumont said. “A little bit lack of feel, my timing was a little bit off, but as soon as we get that synced up in the bullpen, we’ll be fine.”

Right fielder Amalani Fukofuka tripled and scored in the first inning, but the Chukars went cold for the next five innings. Missoula starting pitcher Yefrey Ramirez retired 11 in a row and 14 of 15 heading into the seventh. But Fukofuka (2 for 4, two runs) ended the skid with his second triple of the game to lead off the inning. He scored on a fielder’s choice.

In the bottom of the eighth with two outs, second baseman Jeckson Flores shot a double into the left-center field gap, scoring two for a 4-2 lead.

Missoula answered with one out in the top of the ninth on a Raymel Flores two-run home run to left field — over Collins’ head.

First baseman Josh Banuelos (1 for 3, two RBIs) walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Collins wailed on the first pitch from Gabriel Moya for the second walkoff home run in as many days. Missoula’s Luke Lowery hit a solo walkoff in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader.

Collins, a fifth round pick in the 2015 draft, enjoyed his first trot around the bases in 93 at-bats this season, and the first mobbing at home plate in 21 years of life.

“They were throwing water on me, so it was kind of cold, but that’s about it,” Collins said of his teammates. “They weren’t slapping me too hard.”

The Chukars (9-19) go for the series sweep of the Osprey (15-11) tonight at 7:15.