Chukars provide fireworks in 16-4 win over Ogden

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The occasional firework exploded over the center field wall during Alexis Rivera’s final at-bat.

Rivera
Rivera

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).

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Burt

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.

Home woes continue for Chukars in 9-2 loss to Odgen

Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Marten Gasparini misses an infield grounder during a game against the Ogden Raptors on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.    ( Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Marten Gasparini misses an infield grounder during a game against the Ogden Raptors on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Murphy’s law invaded Melaleuca Field on Wednesday night.

The Idaho Falls Chukars left 13 runners on base. Their pitchers gifted meatballs to the Ogden Raptors’ batters. The Chukars even failed to execute a routine baserunning play.

Almost anything that could go wrong, went wrong.

The Raptors (6-8) took the second game of their Pioneer League series 9-2 over the Chukars (4-10), lowering Idaho Falls’ home record to 1-5.

“These kids are learning,” Chukars’ manager Justin Gemoll said. “It’s a process. That’s why this is the lowest level and there’s a long way to go to get to the major leagues. They’re going to keep coming here, working. We’ll try to get them better, and hopefully they can reach their ceiling.”

The home woes have frustrated Chukars fans, who have voiced their displeasure with Idaho Falls’ performances in each of this series’ first two games. The Chukars have been outscored 66-53 at Melaleuca Field, 61-38 in their five losses.

Gemoll, while frustrated, knows the sample is too small to worry about his team’s home performance so far this season.

Idaho Falls caught few breaks Wednesday as well. The Chukars outhit Ogden 13-10, yet they would’ve been shut out if not for Alexis Rivera’s two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. On many nights, those hits would have led to more runs.

But Idaho Falls was far from flawless.

The Chukars have now been outscored 50-31 through the first three innings after falling behind 4-0 on Wednesday.

Idaho Falls Chukars outfielder Roman Collins lines out to left fielder Deivy Castillo of the Ogden Raptors on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.    (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars outfielder Roman Collins lines out to left fielder Deivy Castillo of the Ogden Raptors on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

“Early on, we had some hard-hit outs,” Gemoll said. “That’s just the way baseball goes sometimes.”

Chukar pitchers walked two batters, threw three wild pitches and allowed four extra-base hits. Idaho Falls shortstop Marten Gasparini failed to tag up from third on a deep lineout in the seventh inning, due to what Gemoll, who serves as the third base coach, called a miscommunication.

And while leaving runners on base isn’t solely the batters’ fault, Gemoll has noticed some flaws in his hitters’ approaches in those situations.

“As young hitters, sometimes they try to press and try to do too much in those situations,” Gemoll said. “What they have to learn to do is stay patient, stay relaxed and maintain their approach.”

The Raptors will try to win the four-game series tonight at 7:15 at Melaleuca Field.

“We’re not panicking,” Gemoll said. “There’s nothing but the utmost confidence from the coaching staff and the players.”

Chukars lose second straight heartbreaker, 9-8 to Ogden

Idaho Falls Chukar's Luis Valenzuela makes the tag at third base against Ogden's Jake Henson during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukar’s Luis Valenzuela makes the tag at third base against Ogden’s Jake Henson during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

In terms of heartbreak, it’s hard to top a game-tying home run that gets robbed to end a game.

But the Idaho Falls Chukars might have done that on Tuesday night against the Ogden Raptors.

The Chukars erased a 6-2 deficit and held an 8-6 lead with two outs in the ninth inning. But Ogden rallied for a 9-8 win, giving Idaho Falls (4-9) its second heartbreaking loss in two nights.

“We’re all competitive. No one likes to lose,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “But that’s what they in baseball: you have to have a short memory.”

On Monday against Grand Junction, the Chukars trailed 8-5 with two runners on base and two outs in the top of the ninth. First baseman Josh Banuelos was up. On the first pitch, he crushed a ball to right field.

“I thought I got it,” Banuelos said.

Rockies’ right fielder Sam Hilliard prevented a tie and sealed the win with one leaping grab.

“I see him come back over with it, and I’m like, ‘Gosh, nothing can fall,’” Banuelos said.

The Chukars didn’t get a hit until the fifth inning on Tuesday. They erased a 2-0 deficit, only to see it climb up to 6-2. They scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh for a 7-6 lead, their first of the game. Brawlun Gomez provided an insurance run with a solo home run the following inning.

Idaho Falls' Chukar's D.J. Burt chases down a ball during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. Burt fielded the ball was unable to make the throw to first base. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ Chukar’s D.J. Burt chases down a ball during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. Burt fielded the ball was unable to make the throw to first base. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Idaho Falls reliever Brennan Henry inherited two runners but got two outs. Then he walked an Ogden batter. Then he gave up a game-tying two-run single. The Raptors scored the game-winning run on a double steal. Second baseman DJ Burt had the runner at third hung out to dry, but as the runner broke home, Burt threw in the dirt, and catcher Kyle Pollock applied the tag too late.

Gemoll said his players haven’t looked tight or discouraged, despite the slow start and the tough losses (six of Idaho Falls’ nine losses have been by three runs or fewer).

“This is great for the kids’ development, learning how to play in competitive games toward the end,” Gemoll said. “It’s great for us as coaches. These are great teaching points.”

The Chukars have conducted multiple meetings in the last week, talking about working harder and showing more fight. Gemoll has been pleased with the recent results — a record-breaking 25-2 win Sunday, Monday’s heartbreaker and Tuesday’s roller-coaster. To the Chukars’ chagrin, wins have been elusive.

“It’s definitely the game of baseball. It happens,” Banuelos said. “You just keep fighting as a team. Stuff will go your way.”

Chukars can’t follow up record night, drop final road game to Rockies

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The Idaho Falls Chukars couldn’t maintain the momentum from Sunday’s record-breaking offensive outburst and fell 8-3 to the host Grand Junction Rockies on Monday.

The Chukars pounded out 28 hits in a 25-2 win over the Rockies on Sunday and had 16 Monday, but stranded 16 runners and fell to 2-6 against Grand Junction this season.

The Rockies grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first on Ryan Stephens’ RBI double to left. The Chukars tied things up in the second when Amalani Fukofuka reached on an error, advanced to third on a single and a groundout and scored on a passed ball.

Grand Junction regained the lead and some breathing room in the fifth by scoring four runs, three of them coming on Jonathan Piro’s three-run homer to right.

The Chukars added single runs in the seventh and eighth innings, but the Rockies put the game away with three runs in the eighth.

Idaho Falls threatened in the top of ninth, scoring twice to cut the lead to 8-5. With two on and two out, Joshua Banuelos drove a ball to right that was caught by a leaping Sam Hilliard at the wall.

Alexis Rivera continued his hot hitting, going 2 for 4 with a run. Jeckson Flores was 2 for 5 with a double and a run while Banuelos and Nick Dini each had two hits.

After a week on the road the Chukars return to Melaleuca Field today to begin a four-game series against the Ogden Raptors. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

SUNDAY’S RECAP: The Chukars set team records for runs (25) and hits (28) since becoming affiliated with the Kansas City Royals in 2004 in a 25-2 blowout win over Grand Junction.

Every batter in the I.F. lineup had at least two hits and all but one had at least three. The Chukars hit five home runs (two each by Pedro Gonzalez and Alexis Rivera) and nine extra-base hits overall.

Rivera had a huge game, going 4 for 4 with three walks, three runs and four RBIs. Gonzalez finished 4 for 5 with four runs and four RBIs while Joshua Banuelos was 3 for 6 with a double, four runs and three RBIs.

Carlos Herrera earned the win, allowing two runs on three hits with five walks and three strikeouts in six innings.

Chukars’ skid hits four games

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The Grand Junction Rockies continued their dominance over the Idaho Falls Chukars, getting a strong start from Parker French and two home runs to earn a 6-3 win in front of 1,870 fans Saturday at Sam Suplizio Field.

The Rockies improved to 5-1 against the Chukars this season.

Idaho Falls fell behind 6-1 early and saw its losing streak reach four games.

Grand Junction took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on Sam Hilliard’s RBI triple to center and a fielding error by Chukars third baseman Ryan Dale.

I.F. cut the lead in half in the top of the second when Pedro Gonzalez homered over the wall in center. But Grand Junction extended the lead with four runs in the bottom of the second, highlighted by a two-run single from Daniel Suero and a solo homer from Hilliard.

That was more than enough support for French, who allowed three runs on six hits while striking out seven in 5.2 innings. Three Rockies relievers shut the door over the final 3.1 innings, allowing just two hits while striking out four.

Todd Eaton took the loss, allowing six runs (five earned) on eight hits with four strikeouts in five innings. Brandon Thomas saw his ERA fall to 2.89 with three scoreless innings of relief, allowing a hit and a walk with four strikeouts.

Joshua Banuelos added a two-run home run for the Chukars in the sixth, while Brawlun Gomez was 3 for 4 and Roman Collins was 2 for 4 with a run.

Idaho Falls (3-7) and Grand Junction (7-3) play the third game of their four-game series at 6 p.m. today. The teams finish their series Monday before the Chukars return home for the first of six games at Melaleuca Field beginning Tuesday.

Chukars drop third straight; Melaleuca Field receives Baseball Digest honor

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The Grand Junction Rockies and Idaho Falls Chukars, the top two hitting teams in the Pioneer League, played an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel Friday at Sam Suplizio Field.

The Rockies scored single runs in the first and sixth innings and limited the Chukars to a season-low hit total to earn a 2-0 win. Grand Junction improved to 4-1 against Idaho Falls this season.

Two nights after being held to season lows of four runs and seven hits in a loss at Ogden, the Chukars were blanked on six hits. The Chukars struck out six times and got just one runner to third base (a Kyle Pollock triple with two outs in the ninth).

The lack of offense wasted a strong night from I.F. pitchers, who allowed just one earned run on seven hits.

Starter Derek Gordon worked the first 5.2 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits with one walk and five strikeouts. Stephen Milligan gave up two hits in 1.1 scoreless innings of relief while Tripp Davis struck out the side in the eighth.

The Chukars (3-6) and Rockies (6-3) play the second of four games at 7 tonight.

Melaleuca Field honored: Melaleuca Field earned the title Best Rookie League Ballpark in a Baseball Digest competition.

Fans voted in an 18-field March Madness-style bracket. Melaleuca Field entered as a No. 4 seed. Melaleuca took down Burlington Athletic Stadium (home of the Burlington Royals) in the fourth round and Dehler Park (home of the Billings Mustangs) in the semifinals.

In the finals, Melaleuca was the top pick of fans over Howard Johnson Field, home of the Johnson City Cardinals.

“Everyone in Idaho Falls should be proud of this competition,” Idaho Falls Chukars general manager/president Kevin Greene said in a news release. “It’s a city-owned facility, so anyone from the fans who come to the games to Melaleuca as a sponsor should take pride in this. I know I am certainly proud to come to work here every day.”

For a closer look at the competition, visit http://ballparkdigest.com/2015/06/26/best-of-the-ballparks-melaleuca-field/.

Eight-run seventh not enough for Chukars

An eight-run seventh inning that erased an early deficit wasn’t enough for the Idaho Falls Chukars in the final game of a four-game series Thursday in Ogden, Utah.

The Ogden Raptors (3-5) scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh to retake the lead and pull away, handing the Chukars an 11-8 loss to split the series before 3,053 fans at Lindquist Field.

Solid pitching by the Raptors and errors put the Chukars (3-5) in a big deficit early. Ogden roughed up Idaho Falls starting pitcher Dylan Sons with back-to-back singles, a walk and an error to start to the bottom of the first, and the inning ended with a 3-0 Raptors lead.

Ogden tacked on runs in the next three innings to increase the lead to 7-0 while Raptors starting pitcher Jairo Pacheco held the Chukars to two hits through the fourth inning.

After being held to three hits through the first six innings, I.F. batted around in the top of the seventh. Luis Valenzuela hit a bases-loaded, one-out double to score Nick Dini and Ryan Dale. Two batters later, Valenzuela came home off a single from Alexis Rivera to cut Ogden’s lead to 7-3.

Returning to the top of the order, Brawlun Gomez went to bat for the second time in the inning and jacked a two-out grand slam to put the Chukars ahead 8-7.

Ogden continued the hit parade in the bottom of the seventh, as Yensys Capellan and Matt Jones scored with one out to retake a 9-8 lead. A two-out, two-RBI single by Matt Beaty drove in Kyle Garlick and
Garrett Kennedy for the eventual final runs of the game and Nick Dean was caught stealing home to end the seventh with a combined 10 hits and 12 runs.

The score remained unchanged through the eighth and ninth as pitchers locked down and the teams combined for one hit.

Gomez went 1 for 5 with a grand slam and four RBIs, Valenzuela went 2 for 5 with a double, two RBIs and a stolen base and Amalani Fukofuka went 2 for 4 with a double and a stolen base for the Chukars.

Brian Bayliss, I.F.’s third pitcher of the night, took the loss, giving up four runs on three hits while walking two and striking out none in 0.2 innings.

The Chukars continue their road trip tonight by beginning a four-game stand at Grand Junction, Colo. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

I.F.’s win streak snapped with 6-4 loss to Raptors

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The bats that had been so hot through the first six games of the season cooled off just enough for the Idaho Falls Chukars on Wednesday in Ogden, Utah.

The Chukars managed a season-low seven hits and coughed up an early 2-0 lead while falling to the 6-4 to the Ogden Raptors in front of 2,849 fans at Lindquist Field. The loss snapped Idaho Falls’ three-game winning streak.

The offense showed its recent form (league-leading .329 average) in the first inning, starting with a leadoff walk from Jeckson Flores (he would later score on Roman Collins’ double to right) and an RBI single from Amalani Fukofuka.

But Ogden scored three runs in the second and one in the third to take a lead they wouldn’t surrender.

The Chukars got an RBI double from Fukofuka in the third inning and an RBI groundout from Collins in the seventh, but it wasn’t enough.

Fukofuka continued his hot hitting, going 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs to lead the Chukars. Ryan Dale went 2 for 4 with a run scored while Nick Dini was 2 for 4 as the trio accounted for six of the team’s seven hits.

Hunter Haynes, making his second start this year after missing all of last season with an injury, allowed five earned runs on five hits and three walks while striking out three, took the loss. Matt Portland allowed one run on four hits with a walk and five strikeouts in four innings of relief.
Yensys Capellan led the Raptors offense, going 3 for 4 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and two RBIs. Chris Godinez added a solo homer for Ogden.

The Chukars (3-4) and Raptors (2-5) wrap up their four-game series at 7 tonight at Lindquist Field.

Chukars rally for 9-6 win over Raptors, move to .500

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The Idaho Falls Chukars capitalized on seven walks and three wild pitches to earn a 9-6 comeback win over the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday at Lindquist Field.

The win is the third straight for Idaho Falls, which improves to 3-3 and moves one game behind Pioneer League South Division leaders Grand Junction (4-2) and Orem (4-2).

Joshua Banuelos put the Chukars up 1-0 in the top of the first, scoring off a double by Marten Gasparini. The Raptors bounced back in the next frame with runs by Logan Landon, Willie Calhoun, Michael Medina and Scott De Jong, taking advantage of two walks and a wild pitch by Chukars starting pitcher Carlos Herrara.

A back-and-forth contest ensued for the next five innings before a sacrifice bunt by Luis Valenzuela and a hit by pitch and two wild pitches by Ogden pitcher Gregor Mora allowed Pedro Gonzalez to score to put I.F. up 7-6.

A Brawlun Gomez sac fly brought home Amalani Fukofuka and Gonzalez drove in Alexis Rivera with a single in the top of the eighth for the game’s final runs.

Fukofuka went 3 for 5 with a double and two runs scored to lead Idaho Falls. Rivera went 2 for 4 with a double, a home run (his third of the season) and two RBIs and Gasparini went 2 for 4 with three stolen bases and an RBI for Idaho Falls. Gasparini has seven stoles bases this season.

Alberto Rodriguez took the win on the mound, giving up no runs on no hits while walking three and striking out one in 2.1 innings of relief. Brian Bayliss earned the save, pitching a scoreless ninth with one strikeout.

First pitch for game three of the four-game series is 7 p.m. tonight.

Chukars top Raptors for second straight win

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The Idaho Falls Chukars got a sacrifice fly from Brawlun Gomez in the top of the 11th inning and good pitching throughout to beat host the Ogden Raptors 4-3 on Monday.

It was the Chukars’ second straight win after opening the season with three blowout losses at Melaleuca Field.

It took a little extra work for I.F. to get its first winning streak. The Chukars trailed 3-2 after five, but tied the game in the seventh on Marten Gasparini’s solo homer to left field.

The score remained tied until the top of the 11th, when Joshua Banuelos walked, moved to second on a single from Alexis Rivera, to third on a sac bunt by Amalani Fukofuka and scored on close play on Gomez’s sac fly to right.

Brennan Henry, who joined the Chukars on Monday from the Lexington (Ky.) Legends, got the final six outs to earn the win. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound lefty just one hit in two innings while striking out one.

That followed two strong performances from starter Todd Eaton and reliever Brandon Thomas.

Eaton pitched the first four innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits with three strikeouts. Thomas was even better, allowing just one earned run on four hits and a walk with six strikeouts in five innings.

Rivera led a balanced offense, going 3 for 5 with his second home run. Gasparini, Banuelos, Fukofuka, Kyle Pollock and Ryan Dale each had two hits.

The two teams play against at 7 tonight in Ogden.
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