Chukars roll over Orem 6-2 in playoff opener

Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman DJ Burt dives on an infield grounder during the first game of the Pioneer League South Division playoffs against the Orem Owlz Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman DJ Burt dives on an infield grounder during the first game of the Pioneer League South Division playoffs against the Orem Owlz Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Wednesday might have marked the Idaho Falls Chukars’ final home game of 2015.

But they seem on track to play at Melaleuca Field one more time.

I.F. hosted the Orem Owlz on Wednesday night for the first game of the Pioneer League South Division championship series. The game played out like so many in the second half. The Chukars won 6-2.

“They have fun together, and it seems like a different guy is stepping up every night,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said.

Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Derek Gordon throws for a strike against the Orem Owlz during the Pioneer League South Division playoffs Game one Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.  (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Derek Gordon throws for a strike against the Orem Owlz during the Pioneer League South Division playoffs Game one Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

After a 13-25 first half, the Chukars won the second-half division title with a 25-13 record. The turnaround was incredible by itself, but the second half was also historic. Before this season, I.F.’s best half since becoming a Kansas City Royals’ Rookie affiliate in 2004 came in 2009, when it went 23-14 in the second half.

If anyone expected playoff jitters from the Chukars, they didn’t appear during the first few innings of Wednesday’s game.

I.F. starting pitcher Derek Gordon retired Orem’s first six batters on 13 pitches. The Chukars scored once in the first inning and four times in the second inning, although Orem should have limited the damage to one run in the second.

With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the second inning, second baseman D.J. Burt grounded back to pitcher Jeff Malm. The left-hander got a forceout at home, and catcher Tanner Lubach tried to double up Burt at first. But first baseman Jeff Boehm couldn’t corral the throw, and the inning went on.

Right fielder Amalani Fukofuka came up next and smoked the first pitch down the right-field line. Ten seconds later, Fukofuka was standing at third base and the Chukars led 5-0.

Fukofuka (1 for 4) has continued to rake since last week, when he missed two games to attend the funeral for his cousin, Medina.

“I think about her before every game, and it keeps me going,” Fukofuka said. “I know she’s up there looking after me.”

Gordon never looked in trouble during his seven innings of work. He gave up two earned runs on five hits, a walk and five strikeouts. Gemoll lauded the righty’s fastball command and aggression.

“I just treated it like any other start,” Gordon said. “I went out there and tried to compete.”

Flame-throwing right-hander Josh Staumont threw two scoreless innings to preserve the 6-2 win.

Idaho Falls Chukars center fielder Cody Jones runs to first base after a line drive to left field during the Pioneer League South Division playoffs game one against the Orem Owlz Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars center fielder Cody Jones runs to first base after a line drive to left field during the Pioneer League South Division playoffs game one against the Orem Owlz Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

Shortstop Marten Gasparini went 3 for 4 with two stolen bases in his third game back from Japan, where he represented Team Italy in the World Baseball and Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.

“My head was with the (Chukars) the whole time I was over there,” Gasparini said. “I was ready to play in the playoffs. I was looking forward to this moment since the start of the second half.”

Center fielder Cody Jones went 2 for 3 with a walk and third baseman Jose Martinez went 1 for 2 with a walk.

I.F. hopes to clinch the series tonight at Orem, Utah. First pitch is scheduled for 6:15, and Bryan Brickhouse will start on the mound for the Chukars.

If the Owlz win tonight, both teams will play at Orem again Friday to determine who will go to the Pioneer League championship. I.F. would host the first championship game on Sunday if it gets past Orem. In the North Division series, Billings took a 1-0 series lead with a 5-2 win over Missoula.

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