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.
Continue reading “Chukars top Raptors for second straight win”

Chukars skid continues in 11-6 loss to Rockies

By JEFF PINKHAM
jpinkham@postregister.com

The Idaho Falls Chukars didn’t allow 16 runs Saturday, as they had done the previous two nights in losses to the Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field.

Unfortunately for the winless Chukars, the final result was still the same.

Grand Junction continued its hot hitting to start the Pioneer League season and rolled to an 11-6 victory over Idaho Falls in front of 3,363 fans at Melaleuca Field.

Heading into Saturday’s game the Rockies had scored 32 runs on 32 hits (18 of them for extra bases, 10 in the opener and 8 in Game 2). The run total was held down Saturday, but the Rockies still reached double figures and finished with 11 singles, five doubles and two triples. And the Chukars offense that had scored 22 runs on 27 hits in the first two games was limited to seven hits, with three of the runs coming home on wild pitches in the final frame.

It’s not exactly the way the Chukars coaching staff and Kansas City Royals minor league officials would have scripted it. But as first-year Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said, it’s a chance for his young players to learn a little about themselves.

“I told them on the opening day meeting that I don’t expect them to be perfect, but I expect a perfect effort from them every single night,” Gemoll said. “And I’m happy with the way they’ve been playing. They’ve been busting their tails, they’ve been working hard, they’ve been getting after it. The effort, the work has been great.”
Continue reading “Chukars skid continues in 11-6 loss to Rockies”

Grand Junction pounds Chukars for second straight win

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Friday night was a long time coming for Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Hunter Haynes.

Haynes, a left-hander from Mexico, Mo., missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. He started for the Chukars on Friday, marking his first pitching appearance since 2013, when he was with the Arizona League Royals.

“Playing my first game since 2013, I was pretty excited,” Haynes said. “I was happy with my stuff. I wasn’t happy with my execution.”

Haynes (five earned runs on seven hits in two innings pitched) was hardly the only Chukar who struggled with execution Friday night.

The Chukars fell to the Grand Junction Rockies 16-12 at Melaleuca Field. The game played out like Thursday’s 16-10 loss for Idaho Falls – good hitting overshadowed by countless mistakes on the mound and in the field.

“These kids put some pressure on themselves. They all want to be great,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “It’s only natural. Just relax, don’t worry, only focus on what you can do, take the game pitch by pitch and we’ll be fine. The results will be there in the end.”

Thursday’s game started in deceiving fashion. The Chukars led 2-0 after one inning. The Rockies scored 16 straight runs after that inning and won 16-10.

Continue reading “Grand Junction pounds Chukars for second straight win”

Nerves doom Chukars in 16-10 season-opening loss to Grand Junction

Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Josh Banuelos dives and misses a line drive during the third inning of the season opener game against the Grand Junction Rockies on Thursday at Melaleuca Field.   (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Josh Banuelos dives and misses a line drive during the third inning of the season opener game against the Grand Junction Rockies on Thursday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Idaho Falls Chukars rookie manager Justin Gemoll sensed nerves from his players before Thursday’s first pitch.

“They all had an extra pep in their step today,” Gemoll said.

This was the first game of the season for the young Chukars.

Their angst was reflected in the results.

Idaho Falls struggled in every area during its 16-10 loss to the Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field. A late rally masked a bleak five-inning stretch.

“There were a little bit of nerves,” Gemoll said. “But once we settled in, once we got acquainted with our surroundings, we did a good job fighting until the end.”

The Chukars looked relaxed in the first inning, when they took a 2-0 lead.

The next 5.5 innings felt like a different game.

The Rockies scored 16 unanswered runs. The Chukars got two runners on base in the second inning, then spent the next 14 plate appearances recording outs.

The hitting performance didn’t worry Gemoll or the Chukars. They scored 10 runs and didn’t strike out until the eighth inning. First baseman Josh Banuelos (3 for 5, five RBIs, a home run shy of the cycle) and center fielder Amalani Fukofuka (2 for 5, two runs scored) sparked a late eight-run rally to give a sour game a sweet aftertaste.

Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Josh Banuelos slides into third during the bottom of the first inning of the season opener against the Grand Junction Rockies on Thursday at Melaleuca Field.   Photographer Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com, Date 6/18/2015, Lens 300, ISO 200, FStop {fstop}, Shutter 1/2000, Aperature {aperature},
Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Josh Banuelos slides into third during the bottom of the first inning of the season opener against the Grand Junction Rockies on Thursday at Melaleuca Field. Photographer Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com, Date 6/18/2015, Lens 300, ISO 200, FStop {fstop}, Shutter 1/2000, Aperature {aperature},

“We were putting the ball in play, hard-hit balls,” Banuelos said. “That’s baseball. That happens.”

The pitching and defense were another matter. The Rockies had 10 extra-base hits, including two long home runs by left fielder Ryan Stephens. Idaho Falls committed three errors, helping fuel five of Grand Junction’s runs.

“It’s the first game of the year. I think guys were amped up,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said. “Predominantly what I tell guys is to take their time, to stay back and make sure they breath. A lot of pitchers that get in trouble stop breathing.”

Gemoll isn’t worried about the rocky first game. Four Chukars who appeared in Thursday’s game played for Idaho Falls last season. And all 13 Chukars who saw the field were excited to get the season started. Nerves were expected.

“We’ve got 26 straight games to open the season,” Gemoll said. “The great thing about professional baseball is you have a game every day. You have to learn how to be consistent. Not get too high, not get too low. Celebrate your wins, but when you do lose, clear it and get back after it tomorrow.”

The Chukars will look to avenge their opening loss at 7:15 tonight back at Melaleuca Field.

Notes:

– Suppan said left-handed pitcher Hunter Haynes, one of nine lefties on the Chukars’ 13-man pitching staff, will get the start tonight.

– Colorado’s top pick (and No. 3 overall selection) in the most recent MLB draft, infielder Brennan Rogers, was on Grand Junction’s roster Thursday night (he didn’t play). Rogers might be one of several 2015 first-round draft picks to come to Idaho Falls this summer.

Tyler Stephensen, a catcher from Kennesaw (Georgia) Mountain High School was selected by the Cincinnati Reds with the No. 11 overall pick and starts the summer with the Billings Mustangs. Fellow catcher Taylor Ward, from Fresno State, was drafted 26th overall by the Los Angeles Angels and was on the opening day roster for the Orem Owlz.

The other five MLB teams with Pioneer League affiliates, including the Chukars, have yet to sign their first-round picks.

Correction: The Kansas City Royals have signed their No. 1 pick Ashe Russell.

Bandits, Chukars use exhibition to prepare for big weekend

Idaho Falls Bandits shortstop Kolten Westergard dives for an infield drive during an exhibition game against the Idaho Falls Chukars on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.  (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Bandits shortstop Kolten Westergard dives for a ground ball during an exhibition game against the Idaho Falls Chukars on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

In some ways, Wednesday’s exhibition game between the Idaho Falls Bandits and the Idaho Falls Chukars felt like a postseason battle.

Sure, the pitchers faced their own lineups, the Chukars threw out two pitchers who aren’t on the active roster and the bottom of each inning ended after the Chukars scored, no matter how many outs were recorded.

But the Bandits didn’t scoff at Wednesday’s game, which the Chukars won 8-4. Nor did the thousands of fans in attendance. And the game allowed several Chukars to settle in for an important 76-game season on the horizon.

“I feel like I’m starting to get really comfortable,” said Chukars’ left fielder Roman Collins, who drove in two runs and reached base three times. “I think I could have a really good season. It’s definitely a good start.”

Melaleuca Field drew 2,353 fans Wednesday night. And while most were likely there to see the Chukars for the first time in 2015, the largest thrill came off the bat of the Bandits’ Hunter Leavitt, a junior-to-be at Idaho Falls High School.

In the top of the third inning, Leavitt crushed a pitch from teammate Cason Johnson well over the left field wall for a solo home run, the lone big fly of the game.

“It felt good off the bat,” Leavitt said. “Everybody said it went out by a ways, so it was a good feeling to do that in front of a big crowd.”

Leavitt, the youngest player on the Bandits, said adrenaline might have played a large part in the home run and he admitted some nerves playing in front of minor league players and coaches. On his home run trot, he rounded third base with a smile.

“This is almost a showcase to show that I can compete with the big guys,” Leavitt said.

The Chukars had something to prove, as well. The players have a brand new coaching staff to impress, so a successful tuneup for the regular season can build confidence and trust.

Chukars’ second baseman DJ Burt, playing his first game in a Chukars’ uniform, started his season on the right foot with three hits Wednesday.

“I feel great,” Burt said. “I worked really hard this spring training, so I’m looking forward to (Thursday).”

Burt was drafted in 2014 and spent last season with the Burlington Royals, one of the Kansas City Royals’ Rookie League affiliates. He might be new to Idaho Falls, but he’s at least experienced minor league baseball for a full season.

Collins, on the other hand, has been in the minors for a week. Collins was drafted in the fifth round of last week’s MLB draft. He arrived in Idaho Falls three days ago after three days in Arizona.

The last week has been stressful for Collins. Wednesday’s strong hitting performance helped subdue some of that anxiety.

It helped that Collins’ performance coincided with his 21st birthday. After the game, he went to Buffalo Wild Wings with some teammates to celebrate.

“It’s been pretty overwhelming, but I’m finally starting to get settled in,” Collins said.

The Bandits travel to Omaha, Neb., today for a four-day tournament. The Chukars start their season with a four-game home series against the Grand Junction Rockies. First pitch is at 7:15 tonight.

Q&A: Chukars’ rookie manager Justin Gemoll

Manager Justin Gemoll talks about his hopes for the team during Chukars Media Day on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.  (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Manager Justin Gemoll talks about his hopes for the team during Chukars Media Day on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

BY VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The Idaho Falls Chukars’ new manager is already enjoying his time in Idaho Falls.

Justin Gemoll grew up in San Jose, Calif., and often visited Lake Tahoe for fishing trips. After Gemoll, 37, was hired by the Chukars in November to replace Omar Ramirez, he researched Idaho Falls and discovered how popular fly fishing is in the area.

It was an excellent marriage of city and the new coach, who lives in Surprise, Ariz., with his wife Jennifer and children Samantha, Gavin and Jackson.

Today, Gemoll will manage his first regular season game for the Chukars against the Grand Junction Rockies at 7:15 p.m. On Wednesday afternoon, Gemoll sat down with the Post Register to discuss the city of Idaho Falls, his previous coaching experience and his goals for his first managerial job.

NOTE: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What do you like about Idaho Falls, other than fishing?

“So far, all of the people we’ve met have been very nice and polite. You guys have welcomed us with open arms, and that’s all we can ask for as staff and players. It looks like a great city. From what it sounds like, everyone’s Chukars fans here, so we’re looking forward to some great crowds and loud crowds at home.”

Where did you coach in six years prior to bench coach job with Wilmington last year?

“In the six years previous to that, I was a hitting coach. I started off a year at Arizona as a hitting coach, then three years in Wilmington as a hitting coach, which I was blessed to do. I got to have (Eric) Hosmer, (Mike) Moustakas, (Jarrod) Dyson. A lot of those guys that we have in the big leagues now came through there. Salvador Perez. It was real exciting to watch those guys. Then, I went with Lexington for a year and Burlington, North Carolina, for a year before being a bench coach.”

Do you still keep in touch with those major league players?

“Yeah. It’s funny, we went to the World Series last year, my wife and I. They let us in the stadium early before the general admission so we could watch the guys and say Hi. We were just hanging back watching them and Hosmer and Mous were down there at first base screaming, ‘Hey, G.’ It was pretty cool. My wife was crying. She’s real sentimental.”

What are your goals for this season?

“At the rookie ball level, it’s to get all of these guys acquainted with the daily grind of professional baseball, learning how to prepare themselves to go out and compete and win every single night. That being said, some of these kids are gone from their families for their first extended period, so there are going to be some issues. It’s going to be a learning process.”

What do you do to get a group of players like this to become tight-knit?

“Talk about things other than baseball all of the time. We’ll talk about what they like to do in their free time, we’ll joke around with each other, the music’s playing in (the clubhouse). We’ll change it so one day we’ll listen to Latin American music, the next day is country and the next day is stuff we like, the throwback stuff that shouldn’t be throwback. I was told Pearl Jam is ancient now.”

17 year-old Gasparini’s big night gives Chukars 8-3 win in season finale

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Idaho Falls Chukars short stop Marten Gasparini slides into third base during Thursday's season finale against the Ogden Raptors at Melaleuca Field. Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com

Last Friday, Marten Gasparini went 0 for 2 with two errors in the Burlington Royals’ season finale.

Fortunately for Gasparini, this wasn’t his last game.

The 17-year-old Italy native traveled from North Carolina to Idaho Falls and played in the Chukars’ final five games. He saved his best for last, going 3 for 3 with a three-run home run in Idaho Falls’ 8-3, season-ending win over the Ogden Raptors at Melaleuca Field on Thursday night. The game was a satisfying end to a mediocre season for both Gasparini and the Chukars (38-38).

“I’ll go into (Fall Instructional League) with a much better mindset,” Gasparini said Thursday.

Gasparini sparked the Chukars’ first rally with a one-out single in the first inning, and he moved to third on Samir Duenez’s single the following at-bat. On a 1-1 count with two outs, Duenez took off for second. Odgen’s catcher threw to second in attempt to catch Duenez stealing. Meanwhile, Gasparini sprinted toward home. The throw took one hop in front of the second baseman, who bobbled the ball, allowing Duenez to notch the steal and Gasparini to score.

The Raptors struck back in the third. With two outs and a runner on first, Cody Bellinger blasted a triple into the left center field gap. Gasparini handled the relay but his throw to third was off line and bounced into Odgen’s dugout. The error allowed Bellinger to score, giving Odgen a 2-1 lead.

Idaho Falls answered in the bottom half of the inning, with Gasparini leading the charge again. He hit a two-out single and scored the next at-bat on a double down the left field line by Duenez.

Idaho Falls’ Jecksson Flores hit a one-out single the next inning and moved over to third on a single by Cesar Gonzalez. Desmond Henry walked to load the bases and Brandon Downes drove in Flores with a sacrifice fly to deep right.

Next up was Gasparini, who crushed a three-run home run to right, putting the Chukars up 6-2 and essentially sealing the victory.

“He’s still young, still learning, but it’s exciting to watch him play,” Chukars manager Omar Ramirez said of Gasparini.

Chukars first baseman and Pioneer League MVP Ryan O’Hearn lauded Gasparini’s defense, in addition to his offensive firepower.

“I sure wasn’t that good when I was 17,” O’Hearn said.

Continue reading “17 year-old Gasparini’s big night gives Chukars 8-3 win in season finale”

Chukars stay driven in 9-4 win over Raptors

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The only difference for the Idaho Falls Chukars on Thursday night was the wind howling out to left center field.

The Chukars, who were eliminated from the Pioneer League playoffs four days ago, played their second-to-last game of the season Wednesday against the Ogden Raptors at Melaleuca Field. While the outcome was meaningless, Idaho Falls’ players and coaches said they treated the game like any other. They wouldn’t want to take a game lightly no matter how unimportant it was.

The final outcome — a 9-4 Chukars victory — illustrated their business-like approach.

“That’s being a professional,” Idaho Falls manager Omar Ramirez said.

The Chukars’ offense put up five runs in the first inning, all with two outs.

Pioneer League MVP Ryan O’Hearn started the rally with a walk. Robert Pehl followed with a single, then O’Hearn and Pehl moved up a base on a wild pitch before scoring on Samir Duenez’s single. Brawlun Gomez followed with another single, and Mike Hill made the score 4-0 with a triple to right center. Pedro Gonzalez completed the scoring with a bloop double to right.

The Chukars added on in the third when Duenez, who hit a leadoff triple, scored on a passed ball.

Continue reading “Chukars stay driven in 9-4 win over Raptors”

Raptors rally for 12-5 win over Chukars

The Ogden Raptors rallied from an early 4-1 deficit and rolled to a 12-5 win over the Idaho Falls Chukars on Tuesday in Ogden, Utah.

It was the final road game of the season for the Chukars, who fell to 36-38 overall and 16-20 in the second half.

The Chukars took a 3-0 lead in the fourth on an RBI double from Ryan O’Hearn, a wild pitch and an error. Ogden got a run back in the bottom of the inning before I.F. regained its three-run lead in the sixth on Jecksson Flores’ RBI groundout that scored Brandon Thomasson.

Ogden broke things open with four runs in the bottom of the sixth and four more in the seventh. Julian Leon and Jacob Scavuzzo both hit two-run homers in the sixth, while the Raptors scored on a bases-loaded walk, a two-run single from Alex Verdugo and an RBI groundout from Scavuzzo.

The Raptors added three more runs in the eighth with a two-run single from Leon and a sac fly by Yensys Capellan.

O’Hearn had another big day for the Chukars, going 2 for 5 with a run scored and an RBI. Shortstop Corey Toups also went 2 for 5 and scored a run.

Kyle Zimmer made his final rehab appearance, going 0.2 innings while allowing a hit and a walk and striking out two.

Torey Deshazier took the loss, allowing five runs, four earned, on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts in 5.1 innings.

Bernardo Reyes pitched two innings of relief to earn the win, allowing one run on one hit with a walk and two strikeouts.

The Raptors (37-36, 22-13 second half) and Chukars now head to Melaleuca Field to finish off the regular season. The teams will play today and Thursday at 7:15 p.m. Ogden has clinched the top spot in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings and will face Orem in the first round of the playoffs beginning this weekend. The Chukars have been eliminated.