By VICTOR FLORES
The occasional firework exploded over the center field wall during Alexis Rivera’s final at-bat.
In the bottom of the third inning, the Idaho Falls Chukars’ first baseman launched what he thought was a home run, but the umpires ruled it just foul of the right field pole.
In the bottom of the seventh, with a chorus of fireworks lighting up Melaleuca Field, Rivera left no doubt. He crushed a grand slam to right center, giving the Chukars a 16-3 lead over the Ogden Raptors.
“I try not to go up there thinking home run, but bases loaded … just trying to find a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it,” Rivera said.
A day after nothing went right for the Chukars, everything broke their way Thursday night. Idaho Falls (5-10) routed the Ogden Raptors (6-9) 16-4 in the third game of their Pioneer League series, eliminating a potential sweep.
“Our approached stayed consistent,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “Like we talk about every night, they got out and played hard for nine innings. It’s good to come out on top.”
Chukar fans groaned in the top of the first, when Ogden scored two runs. But the “here we go again” symphony ended in the bottom half, when the Chukars scored three times.
Idaho Falls led the rest of the way.
In Wednesday night’s 9-2 loss, the Chukars left 13 runners on base. On Thursday, they stranded four. And of their 16 runs, 12 came with two outs.
“With runners on base, we just focused a little more,” Rivera said.
Rivera (2 for 4, five RBIs), Amalani Fukofuka (3 for 5, two RBIs), Jeckson Flores (2 for 2, three runs) and Roman Collins (2 for 5, two RBIs) led the Chukars’ charge, which isn’t a surprise to Idaho Falls’ coaching staff. All four players are hitting over .315 (Rivera and Fukofuka are hitting .386 and .394, respectively).
But the Chukars also received an unlikely contribution from second baseman and leadoff hitter DJ Burt, who went 1 for 2 with two walks and three runs scored. Burt started the season 1 for 26 at the plate, and his batting average was .151 before Tuesday’s game.
Recently, Burt has adjusted his approach. His secret? Taking the first pitch, no matter how good it looks.
“My goal is to fight through pitches, and just have a good at-bat,” Burt said.
Pitching and defense have been the main reasons for Idaho Falls’ struggles this season, but those areas looked sharp Thursday.
The Chukars committed one error and made several leaping catches (Brawlun Gomez in the second, Rivera in the fifth, Collins in the seventh).
Starting pitcher Todd Eaton went five innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits. The key stat: no walks.
The bullpen also held down the fort.
Gemoll has consistently lauded his team’s consistent preparation for each game. On Thursday, the box score reflected his team’s approach.
“These guys play hard every night, which is all you can ask for,” he said.
The Chukars will attempt to split the four-game series tonight at 7:15.