Fukofuka gets throwback walk-up song, game-winning hit in 9-8 Chukars victory

Fukofuka.
Fukofuka.

By MARLOWE HEREFORD
mhereford@postregister.com

Idaho Falls Chukars outfielder Amalani Fukofuka entered Monday’s opening game of a four-game homestand against the Billings Mustangs looking for a new walk-up song.

He not only left with a throwback to walk up to, but the game-winning hit to conclude a rollercoaster 9-8 victory before 3,144 fans at Melaleuca Field.

Before his third at-bat, the opening verse to “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child blared through the Melaleuca speakers. He got a single in that at-bat, followed by a single and the game-winning RBI double in his final two appearances to finish the night 3-for-5.

The outfielder said he not only enjoyed the song chosen by the guys working in the booth, but called it fitting for his name which has drawn much attention throughout the league this season.

“I started laughing when it started playing,” Fukofuka said. “I actually told one of the guys who worked here that I didn’t like my old walk-up song and I told them to just pick whatever. I’ll stick with it.”

The song seemed to do the trick, as the win put the Chukars at 13-4 in the second half of the season. It also maintained I.F.’s lead in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings to three games over the Ogden Raptors and Orem Owlz, who are both tied for second at 10-7.

It was also the latest in a recent string of rallies for the Chukars. Idaho Falls saw its 3-2 lead through two innings disappear as the Mustangs bats heated up and Chukars errors (five, all by shortstop Marten Gasparini) started taking a toll. Consecutive walks and a wild pitch by I.F. relief pitcher Brandon Thomas resulted in Ed Charlton coming home to put Billings up 7-3 entering the seventh inning stretch.

Idaho Falls responded with runs by D.J. Burt and Fukofuka in the bottom of the seventh and four runs in the bottom of the eighth, which saw five consecutive Chukars go to bat before the first out.

“They didn’t panic,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “They were trying to have good at-bats. Everyone’s been doing a good job of competing all year.”

Catcher Kyle Pollock went 2 for 4 with a two-run, 406-foot homer in the bottom of the second and Cody Jones went 3 for 5 with a double and two runs scored. Thomas earned the win, giving up three runs on four hits while walking four and strking out one in four innings.

Idaho Falls (26-29) faces Billings (25-29) for game two tonight at 7:15 p.m.

SUNDAY’S GAME: The Chukars got a strong start from Derek Gordon and completed a three-game series sweep with a 6-5 win over Helena on Sunday at Melaleuca Field.

Gordon had a no-hitter through 5.2 innings before a Gasparini error extended the inning. Malik Collymore broke up the no-hitter with a two-run home run. Helena added two more runs in the sixth to tie the game.

The Chukars took a 5-4 lead in the seventh when Cody Jones tripled and DJ Burt walked. Both runners came home on a botched pickoff play.

Helena got a run in the eighth, but Brian Bayliss pitched a scoreless ninth to secure the win.

Burt went 2 for 3 with three runs scored, Luis Lara was 3 for 4 and Joshua Banuelos was 2 for 4 with a run to lead the Chukars.

Chukars Notebook: Derek Gordon’s unorthodox path to pros

Idaho Falls’ Derek Gordon delivers a pitch against Orem on July 28 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ Derek Gordon delivers a pitch against Orem on July 28 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The Idaho Falls Chukars’ best starting pitcher was a scrawny second baseman six years ago.

That pitcher, Derek Gordon, is currently listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. Before graduating from Lincoln (Neb.) Southeast High School, he stood 5-foot-11.

A position shift is a small part of Gordon’s unorthodox route to professional baseball success. His under-the-radar career and famous brother have contributed to one of Gordon’s primary traits: measured expectations.

“I didn’t expect much, and now it’s not like I have super high expectations for myself,” Gordon, 23, said Friday. “But I have a standard I set for myself. I want to go out and compete and have the best chance to win.”

In high school, Gordon knew he wasn’t a phenom like his older brother, Alex, an MLB all-star who was chosen second overall by the Kansas City Royals in the 2005 amateur draft. So Gordon chose to play for Missouri’s Park University of the NAIA.

Park’s coaches recruited Gordon to play second base and pitch, but when the season approached, the slender Gordon stood 6-foot-4. The Pirates opted to move Gordon to the outfield in addition to his pitching duties.

The next year, Gordon and his coaches agreed he’d exclusively pitch. He finished his Park career with a 3.35 ERA and 172 strikeouts in 212 innings pitched.

That success didn’t net him a minor league contract. Luckily for Gordon, he knew Bill Sobbe, the pitching coach for the independent Kansas City T-Bones. Sobbe set up a pitching session in front of T-Bones manager John Massarelli in June 2014. The team signed Gordon days later.

His ERA was 6.49 in 14 games for the T-Bones.

Gordon’s family was full of Royals fans even before Alex and their cousin, Jake Kuebler, were drafted by the franchise (Kuebler played 23 games for the Chukars in 2010). Gordon’s parents even named his older brother, Brett, after Kansas City legend George Brett.

The Royals cemented Gordon’s fandom this year.

In January, Gordon was driving to his cousins’ house to play catch. On the drive, he received a phone call. It was J.J. Picollo, the Royals’ vice president/assistant general manager for player personnel. Kansas City had signed Gordon, Picollo said.

After Gordon hung up, he pulled over to the side of the road.

“I was shaking,” Gordon said. “I was so excited.”

Gordon was a mid- to late-inning reliever for the T-Bones, but the Royals asked him to be a starter. In nine starts for Idaho Falls, Gordon’s ERA is 4.34, which would be better if not for the seven earned runs he allowed against Helena on Aug. 9.

On the season, Gordon has 44 strikeouts and 14 walks. His success has less to do with his fastball velocity (which sits in the high 80s) than his command and ability to throw offspeed pitches for strikes.

“I think he’s learning how his body feels two, three times through the lineup,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said. “He’s a smart guy. He learns his stuff, and I think that’s what’s helped him.”

Gordon’s name is almost always preceded by “Alex’s brother.” It defines his baseball persona. Gordon discusses his brother with an aggravated admiration, but he harbors no ill will. Alex works too hard for Gordon to feel that way.

Gordon hopes he’ll be Alex’s teammate in the not-so-distant future. He certainly doesn’t want to face him.

Gordon’s expectations are measured, after all.

“I want him to get a little older, maybe have a little less energy in his legs,” Gordon said with a laugh. “Maybe I can sneak something by him. Right now, I don’t think that’s possible.”

ROSTER MOVE

Left-handed reliever Nick Green was promoted from the Chukars to the Single-A Lexington Legends on Friday.

Green, 24, had a 3.52 ERA in 15.1 innings for Idaho Falls this season with seven walks and 15 strikeouts. He also had a 3.52 ERA in 15.1 innings for the Chukars in 2014.

Green, a Salt Lake City native, was selected by the Royals in the 10th round of the 2014 MLB draft.

INJURY UPDATE

Chukars catcher Pedro Gonzalez has not played since July 25 against Orem while dealing with shoulder irritation. He’s day-to-day, the Chukars said, and is being re-evaluated this weekend.

“He’s getting close,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said Friday. “Hopefully we’ll get him back here soon, once he feels better swinging the bat and that kind of thing.”

With the addition of Luis Lara, Gonzalez is one of four catchers for Idaho Falls, so the team does not want to rush Gonzalez back.

Gonzalez, 23, is hitting .328/.403/.552 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 67 plate appearances this season.

WHO’S HOT?

LHP Matt Portland

On July 9, Portland’s ERA ballooned to 7.88 after allowing three earned runs in 1.1 innings against Ogden. The rookie reliever has pitched 13.1 innings since then, giving up one earned run. His ERA now sits at 3.38 for the season.

Portland, 21, hasn’t merely benefited from batted ball luck, either. The 17th-round draft pick walked three batters in those 13.1 innings since the July 9 outing, where he issued three walks. On the season, Portland has walked seven batters while striking out 22 in 21.1 innings.

WHO’S NOT?

OF Cody Jones

When the second half began, Jones had settled in nicely as Idaho Falls’ regular center fielder and leadoff man. But the rookie has fallen into a slump the last two weeks.

Since July 31, Jones has gone 9 for 44 (.205 batting average) with five walks and nine strikeouts. The sixth-round draft pick’s .326 batting average going into the July 31 game against Ogden has dropped to .285 through Saturday.

Chukars sweep doubleheader versus Helena; Denson makes history

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregiser.com

Before Saturday, Idaho Falls Chukars fans had not seen their team at Melaleuca Field during the month of August.

The Chukars rewarded their fans with a doubleheader sweep over the Helena Brewers on Saturday night. Idaho Falls pulled out a walkoff 8-7 win in extra innings in the first game, and its pitchers shut down Helena in the second game for a 6-1 win.

In the first game, Idaho Falls erased a 3-1 deficit with a run in both the third and fourth innings. The Chukars scored four runs in the fifth inning to pull ahead, and the lead looked safe behind Carter Hope.

The right-handed Hope pitched four straight scoreless innings after his shaky start and was an out away from the Chukars’ first complete game of the season. But he encountered some trouble in the top of the seventh, allowing one run on two hits. Left-hander Tripp Davis replaced Hope after the run scored.

Davis was a Pioneer League all-star with a 2.70 ERA heading into Saturday’s doubleheader, but the side-armer struggled out of the gate. A hit batter, wild pitch and back-to-back singles netted three runs and sent the game into extra innings.

Helena right-hander Jon Olczak shut the Chukars down when he entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the fifth.

Banuelos
Banuelos

Olczak struck out 10 of his first 12 batters faced, allowing one baserunner, and he got two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth. But center fielder Amalani Fukofuka struck a single to right and stole second base, setting up first baseman Josh Banuelos, who was 3 for 4 at that point.

Moments later, he was 4 for 5.

Banuelos hit a deep drive to right field that one-hopped the wall and easily scored Fukofuka for the Chukars’ fourth walkoff win of the season.

Idaho Falls right-hander Josh Staumont made his first professional start in the second game and dominated. The Kansas City Royals’ 2015 second round draft pick went three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and two walks. He struck out seven thanks to a fastball that consistently sat in the high 90s.

Reliever Cruz Guevara gave up one earned run in his three innings, and Drew Milligan pitched a scoreless seventh. The offense supplied six runs on 12 hits.

Collins went 4 for 6 with a solo home run in the first game, second baseman DJ Burt went 5 for 8 (4 for 4 with a triple and double in the second game) and right fielder Brawlun Gomez hit a 440-foot home run in the second game.

Brewer makes major announcement

Helena outfielder and cleanup hitter David Denson came out as gay, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Saturday night. Denson is the first openly gay player actively playing for a team affiliated with the MLB.

Denson joins former major leaguers Billy Bean and Glenn Burke as the only affiliated baseball players to ever come out, according to the Sentinel. Bean and Burke came out after their careers ended. Bean helped Denson reach out to the Sentinel, the newspaper reported.

Denson isn’t the first professional baseball player to come out. Sean Conroy, a pitcher for the independent Sonoma Stompers, came out in June.

Through Saturday, Denson has a .255 batting average with four home runs in 159 at-bats for the Brewers this season.

Chukars-Brewers game postponed due to thunderstorms

The first matchup of a three-game series between the Idaho Falls Chukars and Helena Brewers was postponed Friday due to thunderstorms.

The grounds crew at Melaleuca Field pulled the tarp on to the field about 30 minutes before gametime, and it never came off as the rain grew heavier and the thunder grew louder. The game was called less than an hour later, mostly due to an ugly forecast.

The teams will play a doubleheader tonight starting at 5:30. Both games are scheduled to last seven innings.

Carter Hope, who was scheduled to start Friday’s game, will start the first game of the doubleheader for the Chukars, manager Justin Gemoll said. Derek Gordon will start the second game.

Idaho Falls (22-29) took three of four games on the road against Helena (19-30) last weekend. The Chukars lead the Pioneer League with a 9-4 second half record, while the Brewers have the worst record in the North Division at 3-10.

UPDATE:

Chukars’ long road trip ends with 6-3 loss to Billings

The Idaho Falls Chukars showed the wear and tear of a season-long nine-game road trip Wednesday night in Billings, Mont.

The Chukars committed four errors that led to three unearned runs and allowed six stolen bases as the Billings Mustangs held on late for a 6-3 victory in front of 2,741 fans at Dehler Park.

Billings took two of three in the series against Idaho Falls, which leads the Pioneer League South Division standings.

Idaho Falls trailed 5-1 after the third and 6-1 after the fifth but tried to rally late. The Chukars scored a run in the seventh, another in the eighth and got the leadoff man on in the ninth but couldn’t get any closer.

Flores
Flores

I.F. scored a single run in the first when Jeckson Flores doubled with one out and then scored on back to back wild pitches.

But Billings matched the run in the bottom of the first when Blake Trahan doubled and later scored on Marten Gasparini’s throwing error.

The Mustangs broke things open with four runs in the third on four hits, two stolen bases and a Chukars error. They added another run in the fifth on Kevin Franklin’s home run to left.

Idaho Falls cut into the lead in the seventh when Gasparini singled, stole second and scored on Logan Nottebrok’s double. The margin got smaller in the eighth when Amalani Fukofuka and Josh Banuelos walked with one out. Roman Collins followed with a flyout to deep center, and Fukofuka scored on a throwing error.

Flores was the lone Chukar with two hits, going 2 for 4 to bump his average to .304. I.F. starter Todd Eaton pitched well, allowing six runs (two earned) on nine hits with no walks and three strikeouts in six innings.

The Chukars (22-29 overall, 9-4 second half) will take today off before beginning a seven-game homestand against Helena and Billings on Friday at Melaleuca Field.

Bullpen, rookies lead Chukars to 5-3 win over Billings

The Idaho Falls Chukars continued their hot second half with a 5-3 win over the Billings Mustangs Tuesday night at Dehler Park.

A three-run third inning and a masterful bullpen performance were key for the Chukars in their two-run victory. Idaho Falls is now 9-3 in the second half, which is the best record in the Pioneer League. The Chukars went a league-worst 13-25 in the first half.

Davis
Davis

“It sucked losing a lot, obviously, but a lot of the position players, especially, are very young, so whenever you go up a level, not everybody’s going to have immediate success,” Chukars reliever Tripp Davis said via Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen. “They’ve put in their time in the first half, and now everything’s clicking.”

The Chukars and starting pitcher Daniel Concepcion fell behind 1-0 in the second inning, but they roared ahead a half inning later.

In the third with two outs and runners on the corners, Chukars right fielder Amalani Fukofuka hit a single up the middle to score third baseman Jeckson Flores.

A Josh Banuelos walk loaded the bases for left fielder Roman Collins, who hit a single up the middle to drive in center fielder Cody Jones and Fukofuka and give Idaho Falls a 3-1 lead.

Billings answered immediately, scoring two runs in the bottom of the third inning.

The score remained tied until the top of the seventh. With two outs and runners on first and second, Billings reliever Sarkis Ohanian threw consecutive wild pitches to score Jones, who stole a base during the previous at-bat.

Idaho Falls added an insurance run in the ninth inning, but it didn’t matter thanks to the bullpen.

Billings scored three runs (all earned) off the right-handed Concepcion on seven hits and a walk with three strikeouts in his 4.2 innings pitched. The Mustangs got one runner on base after that (a Shane Mardirosian single) against the lefty Davis and righty Brian Bayliss.

Davis went 3.1 innings with four strikeouts, and Bayliss pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.

Davis, who pitches with a side-arm motion, said he got quick outs in his first inning-plus. The fewer pitches batters see from him, the better, he said.

“I’m not throwing too hard, so when they pick up on the deception and have a few pitches to look at, I become less effective,” Davis said via Cohen. “So as long as I stay aggressive in the zone, if they want to swing early, hopefully I’m down and I’ll get ground balls. But I just have to shove it down their throats and force the action.”

The rookie Collins went 2 for 3 with a walk, fellow rookie Cody Jones went 1 for 5 with two runs scored, 18-year-old shortstop Marten Gasparini went 1 for 2 with two walks and 19-year-old Fukofuka went 1 for 4. Flores went 1 for 2 and was hit by two pitches.

Idaho Falls (22-28) looks to take the three-game series at Billings (23-26, 6-6) tonight at 7:05 p.m.

Helena ends Chukars’ win streak at eight games

The Idaho Falls Chukars were a win away from tying a franchise record.

If the Chukars beat the Helena Brewers on Sunday afternoon, their winning streak would reach nine games. Not since June 2007, when the Chukars started the season 9-0, has Idaho Falls won that many consecutive games in their 11-year history as a Kansas City Royals affiliate.

But Helena ended the streak and avoided a four-game sweep with a 10-8 win Sunday at Kindrick Legion Field.

The Chukars started out slow, falling behind 3-0 after three innings and 5-2 after four. But they broke out in the fifth, scoring four runs for their first, and only, lead of the game.

Collins.
Collins

The highlight of the fifth inning was a two-run home run by left fielder Roman Collins (1 for 4).

The Brewers returned the favor, and then some, in the sixth inning. Helena scored five runs in the frame off starting pitcher Derek Gordon and reliever Ian Thompkins to take a 10-6 lead.

Gordon went into Sunday with five straight starts of two earned runs or fewer. He hadn’t given up more than four earned runs in a start all season.

On Sunday in five innings pitched, Gordon allowed seven earned runs on eight hits, two walks, three strikeouts and two home runs to Helena second baseman Jose Cuas. Gordon’s ERA rose from 3.38 to 4.34 by the time he departed in the sixth.

The Chukars scored twice in the top of the ninth and had the tying runs second and third with two outs, but third baseman Ryan Dale (1 for 4) struck out to end the game.

Regular starters Amalani Fukofuka (outfield) and Marten Gasparini (shortstop) rode the bench on Sunday (Gasparini pinch-ran in the ninth). Catcher Nick Dini, who has hit .405 in his last 10 games, also didn’t play.

Second baseman DJ Burt went 2 for 3 with a walk. First baseman Josh Banuelos and catcher Kyle Pollock each went 2 for 5 with a double.

Idaho Falls (21-27, 8-2 second half) travels to Billings (22-25, 5-5) for a three-game series starting Monday night at 7:05.

Chukars Notebook: Ogden to host Northwest vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game

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

The inaugural Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game does not appear to be the last.

The Ogden Raptors announced near the end of Tuesday’s all-star game that they will host the 2016 game, pending approval from Minor League Baseball. The success of Tuesday’s game, hosted by the Northwest League’s Spokane Indians, led to the decision to play another one next year, this time at a Pioneer League ballpark.

“It will be a big project for us but we will be excited and ready for the game,” Raptors president Dave Baggot said in an article on Ogden’s website.

Ogden could not be reached for comment.

The date and time of next year’s all-star game have not yet been announced. Pioneer League president Jim McCurdy and Northwest League president Mike Ellis will make a joint application for MiLB approval, and Idaho Falls Chukars general manager Kevin Greene hopes the game will be approved in the next few weeks.

“I think what they’re really waiting for is to get feedback from all of the farm directors from all the teams that participated,” Greene said. “Make sure all the farm directors are comfortable with us moving forward and doing this annually.”

As Greene told the Post Register before Tuesday’s all-star game, Ogden was a prime candidate to host next year’s all-star game. The Raptors’ ballpark, Lindquist Field, has a capacity of 6,700 people, making it the largest ballpark in the Pioneer League. Spokane’s Avista Stadium had an attendance of 7,083 for Tuesday’s all-star game.

Other than ballpark size, location was another key factor for Ogden’s all-star game selection. Ogden is about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, narrowly surpassing Orem as the closest Pioneer League town to an international airport. Ogden’s proximity to Salt Lake’s airport allows Northwest League teams to save time and money compared to the Pioneer League’s seven other venues (Idaho Falls; Orem; Grand Juction, Colo.; Billings, Mont.; Helena, Mont.; Missoula, Mont; Great Falls, Mont.).

Next year’s likely all-star game wouldn’t have been possible if Tuesday’s inaugural game went poorly. It went anything but, according to multiple people at the event. The home run derby was well-done, Greene said, and the capacity crowd was treated to a thrilling 6-5, extra-inning victory by the Northwest League.

“Spokane did such a great job,” Greene said. “Their attention to detail was spot-on. These guys worked very, very hard, and they spent a lot of money to pull it off the way they did. The way it was all put together, you couldn’t have asked for it to be done better.

“I’d hate to be the one to try and follow what they did.”

ROSTER MOVES

On Aug. 2, Chukars’ left-handed pitcher Dylan Sons was placed on the voluntary retirement list. The Chukars could not provide further details, and Sons could not be reached for comment.

Sons, 22, was drafted in the 15th round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Kansas City Royals. In seven starts and 26.2 innings this season for Idaho Falls, Sons had a 10.80 ERA on 14 walks, 21 strikeouts and five home runs.

The Chukars also added a player on Aug. 2. Catcher Luis Lara, 20, was promoted from the Arizona League, where he had a .278 batting average, a .381 on-base percentage and a .278 slugging percentage in 36 at-bats.

Idaho Falls now has four catchers on its active roster.

Lara played his first game in an Chukars uniform on Saturday. He went 2 for 4 at the plate against Helena.

WHO’S HOT?

RHP Josh Staumont

Staumont has been electric since he joined Idaho Falls on July 15, but he was also wild early on. In his first appearance with the Chukars on July 16 against Missoula, Staumont walked five and gave up two earned runs in 0.2 innings. The 21-year-old settled down a bit his next three relief appearances, but he still finished the first half with 11 walks, nine strikeouts and four earned runs in 7.1 innings.

Staumont, a second- round pick by Kansas City in the 2015 MLB draft, has given up one earned run in his 6.2 second half innings (three relief appearances). But more importantly, he’s walked three batters while striking out 11. Staumont’s fastball has hit 100-plus miles per hour on several occasions, as well.

WHO’S NOT?

1B Josh Banuelos

It’s not easy to find a struggling player on a team that’s won eight consecutive games, and hardly any Chukar is currently slumping. But compared to his hot start, Banuelos fits that bill.

Banuelos’ batting average was .361 before Idaho Falls’ game against Orem on July 23. He’s gone 12 for 44 (.273) since, dropping his season average to .337.

Perhaps most concerning for Banuelos are his walks, or lack thereof. He’s drawn two walks since July 20, leading to a 35-point drop in his on-base percentage.

Banuelos, a 2015 Pioneer League all-star, missed four games last week due to a bone bruise in his hand.

Chukars squander seven-run lead, prevail 9-8 in extras

For the second straight night, the Idaho Falls Chukars squandered a lead and went into extra innings.

For the second straight night, the Chukars prevailed in the 10th inning.

And for the eighth straight game, Idaho Falls earned a victory.

The Chukars surrendered an 8-1 lead to the Helena Brewers, but Ryan Dale hit a solo home run in the 10th to extend Idaho Falls’ winning streak Saturday at Kindrick Legion Field.

Dale
Dale

“It’s a good feeling knowing you’re helping the team out,” Dale said via Chukars’ director of broadcasting Alex Cohen. “It’s fun. It’s awesome to keep winning. Hopefully we’ll make the playoffs.”

The Chukars scored five runs in the top of the first inning, the second time they’ve done that this series. Idaho Falls scored five in the first inning of Thursday’s series opener.

On Saturday, second baseman DJ Burt hit a leadoff triple, and he scored the next at-bat on a double by left fielder Roman Collins. Two batters later, first baseman Josh Banuelos (2 for 4, walk) drove Collins in with a single. Banuelos scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly from shortstop Marten Gasparini (1 for 4).

Brawlun Gomez came up next and crushed a two-run home run to center field. Gomez (1 for 5) now leads the Chukars with eight home runs this season.

The Chukars extended their lead to 8-1 in the fourth on a two-RBI double from Collins (2 for 5).

Idaho Falls starting pitcher Carter Hope had been cruising to that point, but he gave up three runs in the fourth and one in the fifth. Hope pitched five full innings, giving up five earned runs on seven hits, two walks and two strikeouts.

Helena, like last night down 6-3, crept back.

They scored a run in the seventh, eighth and ninth inning to tie the game 8-8 and send the game into extra innings.

But they nearly walked off.

Helena tied the game with no outs on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center field. Amalani Fukofuka’s throw skirted away, allowing the runners to advance to second and third. Helena loaded the bases again on an intentional walk, bringing up Jose Cuas. The third baseman attempted a suicide squeeze bunt, but he lined it into the glove of Banuelos, who threw to third base for an inning-ending double play.

Dale, who was in a 4 for 34 slump heading into Saturday, came up second in the 10th. The third baseman drilled a Jon Olczak pitch to the opposite field. It cleared the wall for his second home run of the season and a 9-8 lead for Idaho Falls.

“I was pretty nervous, but I got up there and tried to look for an elevated fastball,” Dale said. “I got what I wanted and put a good swing on it.”

Dale said it’s the first time he’s hit a game-winning home run.

Alberto Rodriguez, who blew a save in the ninth inning, pitched a scoreless bottom of the 10th to secure the eighth straight victory.

Dale and Burt each went 2 for 5, with Burt hitting two triples. Dini went 3 for 5, and catcher Luis Lara went 2 for 4 in his first game as a Chukar.

Idaho Falls (21-26, 8-1 second half) looks to sweep Helena (18-27, 2-7) today at 1:05 p.m.

Chukars extend winning streak with 8-7 extra-inning win

The Idaho Falls Chukars had to work for it, but they extended their longest winning streak in years with an 8-7 win over the Helena Brewers on Friday night at Kindrick Legion Field.

The win gives the Chukars a 7-1 record in the second half. Those seven wins have occurred in their last seven games, giving Idaho Falls its longest winning streak since June 2007, when it started the season 9-0.

Idaho Falls took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning, but that quickly disappeared. Helena scored two in the bottom of the second and one in the third for a 3-1 lead.

Gomez
Gomez

For the second night in a row, the Chukars scored five runs in one inning (they scored five in the top of the first during last night’s 8-5 win over Helena).

In the top of the fourth, shortstop Marten Gasparini hit a one-out single, stole a base and scored on a single by catcher Nick Dini. Designated hitter Brawlun Gomez came up next and blasted a home run to left field. Gomez now has seven home runs, tying him for the team lead with Alexis Rivera, who has played for Single-A Lexington since July 5.

Two hits and three walks later, the Chukars plastered five runs on the scoreboard in the fourth for a 6-3 lead.

Helena slowly climbed back.

First, the Brewers scored a run in the fourth inning. They cut Idaho Falls’ lead to 6-5 in the seventh. Against Brian Bayliss in the ninth, they led off the inning with back-to-back singles. First baseman David Denson drove in left fielder Malik Collymore on a sacrifice fly to tie the game and send the game into extras.

The Chukars answered immediately, sparked again by Gasparini (2 for 4) and Dini (1 for 3). Gasparini led the 10th inning off with a single and Dini was subsequently hit by a pitch for the second time in the game. Gomez (1 for 4) moved them over with a sacrifice bunt to bring up Logan Nottebrok (1 for 4, walk). Idaho Falls’ third baseman hit a ground ball to shortstop Jake Gatewood, who threw the ball away, allowing Gasparini and Dini to score.

In the bottom of the second inning, Helena scored a run and got a runner to second base, but he was left stranded.

Chukars starting pitcher Todd Eaton pitched six innings for his longest outing of the season. He gave up four runs (two earned) on seven hits, two walks and two strikeouts.

Idaho Falls center fielder Cody Jones and second baseman Jeckson Flores each went 2 for 6. Right fielder Amalani Fukofuka went 1 for 3 with two walks.

The Chukars (20-26) look to win the four-game series versus Helena (18-26) tonight at 7:05 p.m.