Chukars lose 4-3 to Orem, finish regular season at .500

In the final game of the regular season, the Idaho Falls Chukars fell to the Orem Owlz 4-3 at Orem, Utah.

The Chukars finished the season at .500 and will host Orem tonight for the first game of the Pioneer League South Division playoffs.

I.F. took a 3-0 lead after one and a half innings, but Orem scored three runs in the bottom of the second off Chukars’ left-hander Brandon Thomas.

Owlz designated hitter Angel Genao hit a solo home run off Thomas in the fourth inning, and that proved to be the winning run.

Gasparini
Gasparini

Chukars center fielder Amalani Fukofuka and second baseman D.J. Burt each went 2 for 4. Burt, who also stole two bases, extended his on-base streak to 54 games.

Shortstop Marten Gasparini went 1 for 3 with a walk in his second game with I.F. since Aug. 24. Gasparini spent the previous two weeks in Japan representing Team Italy in the World Baseball and Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.

The Chukars had a Pioneer League-best 25-13 record in the second half, flipping their league-worst 13-25 record from the first half.

I.F. plays the Owlz at Melaleuca Field at 7:15 tonight, then travels to Orem for the second playoff game Thursday and a third game (if necessary) Friday.

The Missoula Osprey and the Billings Mustangs will battle in the North playoffs. Whoever wins that series will get homefield advantage in the championship series. The winner of the South series will host the North championship representative starting Sunday.

Orem beats Chukars 10-3 in second-to-last regular season game

At Orem, Utah, Orem rode a five-run third inning to an easy 10-3 win over the Chukars a day after Idaho Falls clinched the Pioneer League South Division second-half title.

Orem had five extra-base hits, including a home run from Ranyelmy Alberto.

Brawlun Gomez went 2 for 4 with a triple and his team-leading 11th home run to lead the Chukars, but the rest of the lineup managed just two singles from Rudy Martin and Luis Lara.

Chukars clinch second-half division title with 13-7 win over Orem

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Minutes after Sunday’s game, Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Derek Gordon walked around locker room wearing nothing but underwear.

He didn’t want his polo shirt, jeans and shoes getting soaked.

Manager Justin Gemoll stood on a table in the middle of the locker room, popped an apple cider bottle and sprayed the room full of players and coaches.

The celebration was on.

The Chukars were the Pioneer League’s worst team in the first half. With Sunday’s 13-7 win over Orem, they clinched the second half division title.

Banuelos
Banuelos

“We finally caught the hang of it, how each other plays the game, found each other’s weaknesses and helped each other out,” first baseman Josh Banuelos said. “When you pick each other up, great things happen.”

The Chukars overcame a horrendous top of the second inning on Sunday.

Orem first baseman Jeff Boehm reached third base with two outs, and he scored on a Kenny Townes double off the left field wall. Catcher Tanner Lubach walked, bringing up Juan Moreno. The second baseman grounded slowly to third base, but the ball went through Logan Nottebrok’s legs, allowing a run to score. Left fielder Roman Collins also committed an error fielding the ball, which let Lubach advance to third.

The next at-bat was the low-point for I.F.’s defense. Moreno attempted to steal second base. The throw from catcher Xavier Fernandez was late, and it prompted Lubach to break for home. He scored on a late throw home from second baseman D.J. Burt. Fernandez then tried to pick off Moreno, but the ball flew into center field.

The Chukars allowed four runs on two hits, three walks and three errors in the inning.

Orem’s lead grew to 5-0 after the top of the third, but the Chukars swarmed back. They scored four runs in the bottom of the third, thanks to doubles from Nottebrok and Burt and a two-run single by Banuelos.

I.F. tied it 5-5 the next inning. In the fifth, I.F.’s recently added shortstop Jose Martinez came up with runners at first and second and two outs. On a 1-0 count, Martinez unloaded on a Tyler Watson fastball and placed it over the left field wall, 390 feet away.

The home run gave the Chukars an 8-5 lead, and they never lost it.

“They don’t give up,” Gemoll said. “They’ve been fighting all year, and it was good to see from those guys tonight.”

Martinez went 2 for 4, and Amalani Fukofuka (2 for 3 with two walks) hit his third home run of the year, 420 feet over the center field wall, in the sixth. Nottebrok went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a walk, and Burt went 2 for 5, extending his on-base streak to 53 games.

The Chukars went 13-25 in the first half. Their second half record is now 25-11.

This is the second time Gemoll has gotten soaked from a playoff-clinching celebration. The first time was in 2009 when he was with the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

“This one’s pretty good,” Gemoll said of the Chukars’ celebration.

The drenched rookie manager paused for a second.

“This one’s better.”

I.F. plays Orem Monday and Tuesday to finish the regular season. The Chukars will host Orem for the first game of their three-game playoff series on Wednesday. Playoff tickets will go on sale Monday starting at 9 a.m.

Banuelos has been with the Chukars all season, and he has consistently performed (he owns a team-best .358 batting average among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances). Banuelos has one more semester before he graduates from Fresno Pacific, which started school two weeks ago.

“I’m missing school for this,” Banuelos said. “So, we’re going to win the whole thing.”

Chukars Notebook: Behind the mic for the Chukars

Javier Hernandez has been the Idaho Falls Chukars’ public address announcer for the last two years. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Javier Hernandez has been the Idaho Falls Chukars’ public address announcer for the last two years. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Javier Hernandez is known for his energy, but he’s prone to falling asleep at work.

Two weeks ago, Hernandez was at Melaleuca Field for his part-time job as the Idaho Falls Chukars’ public address announcer. During the game, Hernandez didn’t announce the name of an opposing player who came up to bat.

Hernandez also failed to announce the next batter. The Chukars intern sitting next to Hernandez looked over. Hernandez’s eyes were closed. The intern tapped Hernandez, who awoke in confusion.

“It was one of those long days,” Hernandez said.

That was the only time Hernandez, 34, fell asleep while announcing a Chukars game. With the hours he works, it’s amazing Hernandez, in his second year as the PA announcer, hasn’t fallen asleep on the job more often.

“By the end of a homestand, I’m ready for it to be over,” Hernandez said. “But the flipside is, ‘Man, this is baseball. This is awesome.’ It’s short season, so enjoy it while you can.”

Earlier this summer, Hernandez was promoted to assistant store manager at Lowe’s in Idaho Falls. But with it came demanding hours.

During various weekdays, Hernandez has to be at Lowe’s by 5 a.m. He gets off around 3 or 4 p.m., which gives him about an hour to go home and say hi to his wife, Nicole. Then he heads to Melaleuca Field to start his shift as the PA announcer. If it’s a quick game, he might be home before 10 p.m.

Hernandez, who gets paid per game, works two jobs so he can afford his children’s education. Gavin, 8, and Ava, 3, Hernandez attend Watersprings Christian.

“(Nicole) supports me in knowing that this is going toward a good cause,” Hernandez said. “It’s taking care of my family’s needs.”

Hernandez admits the hours are draining, but he loves announcing baseball game. It helps that he’s good at it.

“He brings a really polished presence up there,” Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said. “He does as well as any announcers we’ve had.”

Jordan Beckstead has been the Chukars’ scoreboard operator for more than two decades, so he’s seen his share of PA announcers. Some have been good, some haven’t. Beckstead recalled one announcer throwing a chair in anger during one game.

“Other guys used to get really angry when they’d mess up because they were perfectionists,” Beckstead said. “(Hernandez) doesn’t do that, and that’s what I like.”

Hernandez and Beckstead’s relationship started outside the press box. They were a year apart at Bonneville High School.

“He was always really personable back then, too,” Beckstead said. “Really popular guy, friend to everyone, just like he is now.”

It doesn’t matter if Hernandez messes up a name or has a rough day at Lowe’s. He’s always friendly, his voice always booming.

Even when he dozes at the mic.

“This is a stress reliever,” Hernandez said. “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.”

PLAYOFF SCENARIOS

The Chukars are still battling Ogden for the second-half crown in the Pioneer League South Division. But if they clinch, here’s how the playoffs would look.

Since Orem won the first half South title, it gets homefield advantage in the best-of-three playoff series. That means I.F. would host the first game of the series Wednesday, and Orem would host the second game Thursday and, if necessary, the third game Friday.

Whoever wins that series faces the winner of the North series in the championship. The North gets homefield advantage during odd years, so the 2015 Pioneer League champion will have to win the title in Montana.

ROSTER MOVES

Here is a timeline of the week in the Chukars’ roster moves:

Sunday, Aug. 30 — Chukars add infielder Gabriel Noriega (rehab) from Triple-A Omaha and right-handed pitchers Jacob Bonder and Matt Ditman from Rookie-league Burlington.

Monday — Chukars add righty Julio Pinto and catcher Xavier Hernandez from Burlington.

Wednesday — Chukars add outfielder Rudy Martin from the Arizona League and infielders Jose Martinez and Brandon Dulin from Burlington.

Thursday — Chukars add infielder Carlos Diaz and lefty Nicholas Andros from the Arizona League. Noriega ends his rehab stint and returns to Omaha.

Since this is the final Chukars Notebook of 2015, the weekly “Who’s Hot? Who’s Not?” feature will award the hottest and coldest Chukars of the season.

THE ‘WHO’S HOT?’ PLAYER OF THE YEAR

OF Amalani Fukofuka

This was an agonizing choice between Fukofuka and first baseman Josh Banuelos. The deciding factors were Fukofuka’s speed and defense.

Through Friday, the 19-year-old outfielder was second on the team behind Banuelos with a .340 batting average (among players with at least 100 plate appearances). But Fukofuka had a team-best .896 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, thanks to his 18 doubles (second behind Banuelos), nine triples (second behind Marten Gasparini), two home runs and 24 walks. Through Friday, Fukofuka had 299 plate appearances, tied for first on the Chukars with Banuelos.

Fukofuka is also sixth on the team with 10 stolen bases. He’s made several highlight catches in the outfield and has committed only six errors in 64 games.

Fukofuka and Banuelos were the lone representatives on the Pioneer League’s postseason all-star team, as well.

THE ‘WHO’S NOT?’ PLAYER OF THE YEAR

3B Ryan Dale

Left-handed pitcher Hunter Haynes (7.04 ERA, 27 strikeouts, 24 walks) narrowly avoided this dubious honor thanks to a strong second half. Dale has played poorly in the second half, although his struggles aren’t exclusive to the last 35 games.

Through Friday, Dale was batting .208 with a .628 OPS. Other than recent addition Rudy Martin, who had four plate appearances through Friday, Dale has been the Chukars’ worst batter this season. He’s also committed 10 errors.

Not everything has been negative for Dale. The Australian hit a game-winning home run at Helena on Aug. 7, and he’s shown good patience at the plate (.328 on-base percentage).

Chukars on verge of playoff berth after 9-4 win over Ogden

By JEFF PINKHAM
jpinkham@postregister.com

The Idaho Falls Chukars haven’t played perfect baseball in their amazing second-half turnaround. They’ve just overcome their mistakes much better than they did in the first half.

Saturday’s game was a perfect example.

The Chukars got off a rough start, falling behind 2-0 in the top of the second inning. But dominant relief pitching,

execution and plenty of offense more than made up for it in a 9-4 victory over the Orem Owlz in front of 2,142 fans at a chilly Melaleuca Field. The victory reduced Idaho Falls’ magic number to clinch the Pioneer League South Division second-half title to one. Any Chukars’ win or Ogden Raptors’ loss over the next three days will send Idaho Falls to the playoffs.

“This is why you play baseball,” Idaho Falls reliever Matt Ditman told Chukars’ fans in his on-field post-game interview with Chukars’ radio announce Alex Cohen. “You play to win championships.”

A championship appeared to be a long shot after a dismal first half that saw the Chukars go a league-worst 13-25 to finish 11 games behind the first-half champion Owlz. The Chukars have gone a league-best 24-11 since, building a two-game lead over Ogden and a nine-game lead over Orem with three games to play (all vs. Orem, one at home, two on the road).

And they’ve done it with wins like Saturday’s when they didn’t always play their best baseball.

Idaho Falls starter Carter Hope was shaky over the first four innings, allowing a two-run homer to catcher Tanner Lubach in the second and giving up two more runs on an RBI double by Sam Koenig and a wild-pitch strikeout. But Hope left with 5-4 lead thanks to a relentless offense.

The Chukars scored four runs in the second, sparked by a leadoff double by cleanup hitter Josh Banuelos. Newcomer Brandon Dulin followed with a single and Banuelos later scored when second baseman Franklin Torres booted a perfect double-play ball off the bat of Nick Dini.

Roman Collins made the Owlz pay for the mistake with an opposite-field double to left that scored Dulin. Logan Nottebrok and Jose Martinez followed with productive outs that each scored a run. After the Owlz tied things in the third, Banuelos started another rally with a leadoff triple to center. He scored on Dulin’s RBI groundout.

Josh Staumont replaced Hope to start the fifth, and he began a stretch of five dominant innings from the bullpen. Staumont pitched 2.2 hitless, scoreless innings, allowing two walks while striking out four. The performance dropped his ERA to 3.16 in 31.1 innings.

Ditman was even better in his Chukars debut, getting the final seven outs, three of them on strikeouts, without allowing a hit or a walk.

“They were outstanding,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “They came in and attacked the zone and threw strikes, and that’s what you want.”

Dulin, playing just his third game with Idaho Falls after starting the season with Burlington, gave the Chukars some breathing room in the sixth belted a two-out, two run double to the wall in left.

Idaho Falls second baseman D.J. Burt then capped off the offensive showing by executing a perfect bunt to second to extend his on-base streak to 52 games. Burt and Cody Jones then came around on a single by Banuelos, who increased his league-leading RBI total to 60.

The Chukars (37-36 overall) can clinch a playoff spot in their final regular season home game today against Orem (39-34, 15-20) at Melaleuca Field. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Orem smokes Chukars 11-4

The playoff race remains intense for the Idaho Falls Chukars.

The Orem Owlz, who won the Pioneer League South Division first half, scored seven runs in the sixth and seventh innings to hand the Chukars an 11-4 loss Friday in Orem, Utah. The Chukars’ loss combined with Ogden’s 10-4 win over Grand Junction on Friday cut I.F.’s South Division second-half lead to one game.

The Owlz (39-33, 15-19 second half) and Chukars (36-36, 23-11) were locked at 1-1 through three innings before Orem piled on three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Kenny Towns drove in Alex Abbott with a one-out double, Jared Foster beat the throw to score in the next at-bat and Towns scored on a Juan Moreno single.

Logan Nottebrok jacked a solo homer in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to 4-2, but the Owlz answered in the next two innings. An RBI single by Kenny Towns, an RBI double by Eason Spivey, a hit by pitch, two stolen base, and an error led to two Orem runs in the bottom of the sixth.

The Owlz did as much damage in the next frame with a single, a stolen base and back-to-back walks to set up Towns’s RBI single to start the bottom of the seventh. Alex Abbott scored on a bases-loaded walk in the next at-bat and Ian Tompkins relieved Nicholas Andros on the mound. Three batters later with two outs, Eason Spivey scored off a Tompkins wild pitch to make it 9-2 Orem.

Rudy Martin came home off a one-out triple from Roman Collins and Joshua Banuelos drove in Collins with a one-out double two batters later to make it 11-4, but that was as close as the Chukars would get as they went down in order in the top of the ninth.

Baneulos and Nottebrok each went 2 for 4 to lead the Chukars at the plate. Todd Eaton took the loss, giving up four runs (all earned) on four hits while walking three and striking out four in 3.2 innings pitched.

The Chukars face Orem at 7:15 p.m. tonight for the first game of a two-game homestand.

Chukars build division lead to two games with 8-5 win

The Idaho Falls Chukars got one step closer to a playoff berth Thursday night.

The Chukars cruised past the Owlz 8-5 at Orem, Utah, giving them their first winning record of the season. I.F. now has a two-game lead in the Pioneer League South Division for the second half, thanks to Ogden’s 16-8 loss to Grand Junction. Five games remain.

I.F. fell behind 1-0 after the first inning, but it took control in the top of the second on a two-out, two-run home run from left fielder Roman Collins.

The Chukars never trailed again. In the top of the fourth, second baseman D.J. Burt cleared the bases with a two-out triple, extending the lead to 5-1. Burt’s extended his on-base streak to 51 games with the hit.

The lead grew to 8-1 the next inning on an RBI double from catcher Nick Dini, an RBI groundout from Collins and an RBI single from Carlos Diaz.

The third baseman Diaz was one of I.F.’s two additions before the game. He and left-handed pitcher Nicholas Andros were promoted from the Arizona League Royals. Shortstop Gabriel Noriega ended his rehab assignment with the Chukars on Thursday, as well, and was promoted to Triple-A Omaha.

Bryan Brickhouse pitched three solid innings for the Chukars, giving up one run (earned) on one hit, one walk and three strikeouts.

Dini and designated hitter Brandon Dulin each went 3 for 5. Collins and first baseman Josh Banuelos each went 2 for 5.

Ogden’s elimination number shrunk to four with the loss and I.F.’s win. That means the Chukars can clinch the second half division title with two wins and two Raptor losses.

The Chukars also own the first playoff tiebreaker due to their 9-7 record against Ogden this season, so their divisional lead is really three games.

I.F. (36-35, 23-10 second half) wraps up its two-game series with Orem (38-33, 14-19) tonight at 7:15.

Banuelos’ walkoff double lifts Chukars into first place alone

By JEFF PINKHAM
jpinkham@postregister.com

Josh Banuelos let a couple fastballs go by without a swing early in Wednesday’s Pioneer League South Division first-place showdown with Ogden.

Banuelos
Banuelos

He wasn’t about to let another one pass him by.

The Idaho Falls first baseman and Pioneer League RBI leader drove a 1-1 pitch just over the head of Ogden center fielder Gage Green, scoring Roman Collins from first base for his third walkoff hit of the season to send the Chukars to a 5-4 win in front of 2,299 fans at Melaleuca Field.

The victory gave Idaho Falls a two-game sweep of Ogden and a one-game lead over the Raptors in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings with six games left. The Chukars also own the tie-breaker after winning the season series against Ogden 9-7.

“We’re locked in so much,” said Banuelos, who pushed his RBI total to 57. “When we were down in Grand Junction last week, someone said, ‘you guys are having so much fun, no wonder you’re winning.’ We just want to keep it going.”

As has been the case throughout the second half, there were plenty of reasons to smile.

Second baseman DJ Burt, who extended his on-base streak to 50 games in the second inning, started the ninth-inning rally by working his way back from an 0-2 count to draw a leadoff walk.

“DJ had a great at-bat,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “He laid off a couple tough pitches and found a way to get on base. He’s been doing that all year.”

Roman Collins tried to move Burt up a base but his bunt fell too close to the catcher and Burt was thrown out at second. That brought up Banuelos, who had a plan for his at-bat against reliever Marcus Crescentini. He had seen Crescentini earlier this year, and remembered that he struggled with his curve-ball control.

“I was looking for a fastball to hit,” Banuelos said.

He got one on the second pitch but swung through it. He didn’t miss the third pitch, hitting it hard to center. The only question was whether Green would track it down. He didn’t, Collins made a good read on the play and scored without a throw.

“I was just hoping he would make it,” Banuelos said. “I’m tired. I’ve played about 18 games in a row and I didn’t want to play any more tonight.”

The Chukars might not have had a chance to win it if not for starter Derek Gordon and a host of newcomers to the roster.

Gordon has been Idaho Falls’ most consistent starter all season, and he was again Wednesday. The 6-foot-6 right-hander allowed the first two batters of the game to reach base and eventually score, but he minimized the damage and left with two outs in the top of the sixth and the Chukars leading 4-2.

“He’s on top of his game,” Gemoll said. “He’s been making pitches all year.”

Brian Bayliss allowed the tying runs in the seventh, but Pioneer League All-Star Tripp Davis got the final eight outs to preserve the win.

“He came in and did his job,” Gemoll said.

And with several regulars out with injury, Amalani Fukofuka away for personal reasons and Marten Gasparini playing for the Italian national team, the Chukars got a lift from several recent additions.

Shortstop Gabriel Noriega, in Idaho Falls on a rehab stint from Triple-A Omaha, went 2 for 4 and belted an RBI double in the four-run second.

Designated hitter Brandon Dulin, catcher Xavier Fernandez and third baseman Jose Martinez, all call-ups from Burlington (N.C.), went a combined 3 for 10 with two walks, a double (from Fernandez in the second) and two runs scored.

“Those guys are all key players for us,” Banuelos said.

Now the Chukars hope to carry the good vibes to the final six games, all against South Division first-half winner Orem. The Chukars (35-35, 22-10 second half) and Owlz (38-32, 14-18) play tonight and Friday in Orem, Saturday and Sunday in Idaho Falls and Monday and Tuesday back in Utah. If the Chukars could go 4-2, Ogden would have to win all six games against last-place Grand Junction to grab the second-half title.

Chukars tie Ogden for division lead with 10-5 win

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Tuesday’s game wasn’t a must-win for the Idaho Fall Chukars, but it was close.

Idaho Falls' D.J. Burt makes the play at second base and completes the throw in time for a double play dispite the efforts of Odgen's Gage Green to break up the double during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ D.J. Burt makes the play at second base and completes the throw in time for a double play dispite the efforts of Odgen’s Gage Green to break up the double during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

I.F. went in trailing the Ogden Raptors by one game in the Pioneer League South Division, and the Chukars hosted the Raptors for a two-game series starting Tuesday.

The Chukars are now tied for the second-half division lead after handling the Raptors 10-5 at Melaleuca Field. I.F. manager Justin Gemoll said his team has a one-game-at-a-time mindset, but the Chukars know the stakes. Seven games remain in the regular season.

“I’ve never been in a playoff before,” said Chukars catcher Xavier Fernandez, who transferred from the Burlington Royals on Monday. “I feel so excited, and I can’t even explain it.”

The Chukars scored first with a three-run bottom of the first inning. Two runs scored on an error, and Fernandez (3 for 5) hit an RBI single after a long at-bat.

Ogden scored once in the top of the second, but I.F. built on the lead in the bottom half. Center fielder Cody Jones kicked the scoring off with an RBI triple.

Next up was D.J. Burt, who hit a towering fly ball to left field. Left fielder Alex Santana froze as the ball went airborne, appearing to be camped under it. But Santana didn’t know where the ball was, and neither did most of Melaleuca Field. Even Burt thought it was an out.

Santana’s confusion didn’t matter. Burt’s fly ball landed over the wall, 410 feet away.

After 273 plate appearances, Burt had his first home run of the season.

“Finally,” said Burt, who hit two blasts in 163 plate appearances for Burlington last season. “It feels good.”

Gemoll, the third base coach, gave Burt a high five but didn’t exchange words with the 19-year-old as he rounded third.

“He was too busy smiling,” Gemoll said.

The Chukars scored four runs in the second inning, taking a 7-1 lead.

Idaho Falls' pitcher Julio Pinto fielded the ball and caught Odgen's Matt Jones between bases during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ pitcher Julio Pinto fielded the ball and caught Odgen’s Matt Jones between bases during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

I.F. extended the lead to 8-1 on a Brawlun Gomez home run (420 feet), but Ogden cut it to 8-5 with a four-run fourth. The Chukars added some insurance with a two-run sixth.

Julio Pinto made his first start for the Chukars and struggled, despite a mid-to-high-90s fastball. Pinto, previously with Burlington, gave up three runs (all earned) on five hits, a walk, five strikeouts and two wild pitches in 3.1 innings.

Fellow Chukars flamethrower Josh Staumont pitched three scoreless, hitless innings out of the bullpen, giving up two walks with four strikeouts.

Burt went 2 for 4 with two walks and has now reached base 49 games in a row. Newcomer Gabriel Noriega (shortstop) went 3 for 4, Jones went 2 for 5 with a walk and left fielder Roman Collins went 1 for 4 with two walks.

Tonight’s series finale is enormous for the Chukars (34-35). If they win, they’ll not only take a one-game division lead, they’ll improve their season record against Ogden (40-29) to 9-7. The first playoff tiebreaker is head-to-head record.

Derek Gordon is scheduled to start for I.F. in tonight’s game, which starts at 7:15.

Roster notes

Several key I.F. position players were missing from Tuesday’s game. Outfielder Amalani Fukofuka was on the bench getting rest, and Gemoll wasn’t sure if he’d play tonight either. Shortstop Jeckson Flores (hamstring) and catcher Kyle Pollock (hand) are both day-to-day. Gemoll also said catcher Pedro Gonzalez, currently on the disabled list, will not return.

Shortstop Marten Gasparini could return as early as this weekend, Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen said. Gasparini is currently in Japan representing Team Italy in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup

Umpires frustrate Chukars in 9-8 loss to Grand Junction

Umpire calls carry extra weight right now for the Idaho Falls Chukars, who are battling the Ogden Raptors for the Pioneer League South Division title.

So the frustration ramps up when the umpires, from the Chukars’ perspective, make mistakes.

That frustration was evident Monday night against the Grand Junction Rockies, who benefited from several calls that drew ire from I.F.’s players, coaches and fans. It didn’t help that the Chukars lost the game 9-8 and fell one game behind Ogden in the South Division second-half standings. There are eight games left in the regular season.

Burt
Burt

“We had a couple of bad calls we should’ve gotten,” Chukars second baseman D.J. Burt said. “But that’s baseball.”

The Rockies scored twice off Carter Hope in the top of the first inning, but the Chukars took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the first. Both teams went on to score every half inning until the bottom of the fifth, when the game was tied 7-7.

The Rockies took the lead back in the top of the seventh on a two-out, two-run single by catcher Chris Rabago off left-hander Ian Thompkins.

The Chukars loaded the bases in the eighth with two outs but failed to score. In the ninth, they loaded the bases with no outs and scored a run, but they needed at least one more.

Most of the Chukars’ frustration with umpires Isias Barba (home plate) and Luis Hernandez (field) stemmed from balls and strikes.

In the sixth, Barba called Burt out on a high strike. Burt voiced his displeasure with Barba’s call as he walked back to the dugout.

Melaleuca Field got heated in the bottom of the ninth, too, when Hernandez ruled that third baseman Logan Nottebrok went around while trying to check his swing. Fans were incensed, and the umpires told several Chukars in the dugout to settle down. Nottebrok struck out looking on the next pitch, and that call wasn’t popular, either.

“They’re young, too,” Chukars’ manager Justin Gemoll said of the umpires. “Hopefully they learn from it. Things happened to both sides; it wasn’t like it was only our team. It’s just part of the game.”

Burt made noise in another way when he hit a triple in the first inning. That hit extended his on-base streak to 48 games, which is a 2015 high for affiliated baseball, according to the Chukars. Burt (1 for 3, two walks) passed Matt Holiday of the St. Louis Cardinals.

“It feels good,” Burt said. “At the plate, I didn’t want to think about it too much. I just wanted to stick to my game plan, be patient and be a spark to this team.”

First baseman Josh Banuelos went 2 for 4 with a walk, left fielder Roman Collins went 2 for 5 and center fielder Amalani Fukofuka went 1 for 3 with two walks.

The Chukars (33-35, 20-10 second half) host the Raptors (40-28, 21-9) for a two-game series starting at 7:15 tonight. The teams have a 7-7 record against each other this season. If they have equal second-half records at the end of the season, head-to-head record would be the first playoff tiebreaker, so both teams crave a sweep in their final series.

Valenzuela traded for Gomes

The Kansas City Royals bolstered their lineup Monday night by acquiring outfielder Jonny Gomes from the Atlanta Braves, first reported by Fox Sports. In return for Gomes, the Braves received shortstop Luis Valenzuela, who started the season with the Chukars.

Valenzuela, 21, hit .486/.472/.600 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 37 plate appearances for I.F. this season. On July 2, he was promoted to Single-A Lexington, where he hit .339/.368/.483 in 184 plate appearances.

Valenzuela will be assigned to the Single-A Rome Braves, Atlanta announced.

Sunday’s game

Behind a record sixth inning, the Chukars pounded the Rockies 16-7 on Sunday at Meleleuca Field.

The Chukars trailed 6-3 going into the sixth. After the inning, they led 12-6. The nine runs are the most I.F. has scored in an inning this season.

Designated hitter Amalani Fukofuka had one of his best games of the season, going 5 for 6 and finishing a home run shy of the cycle. The five hits are the most by a Chukars’ batter in a single game this season.

Catcher Nick Dini went 3 for 4 with a double, while Banuelos (2 for 4, double, two walks), right fielder Brawlun Gomez (2 for 4, double, walk), center fielder Cody Jones (2 for 6) and shortstop Gabriel Noriega (2 for 5) each had two hits.

Noriega is on a rehab assignment. He transferred from Triple-A Omaha to I.F. before Sunday’s game.