Tag: Derek Gordon

Chukars beat Missoula 5-3, force winner-take-all title game

By BILL SPELTZ
The Missoulian

MISSOULA, Mont. — One fateful swing changed everything.

The Missoula Osprey appeared well on their way to a series-clinching win Tuesday night, leading Idaho Falls by three runs after four innings.

Then an error by Osprey third baseman Kal Simmons cracked the door in the fifth and Amalani Fukofuka pushed it open with a go-ahead, three-run blast.

The Osprey never recovered, dropping a 5-3 decision in Game 2 of their best-of-3 Pioneer League championship series in front of 1,568 fans at Ogren-Allegiance Park. The teams will battle tonight in a winner-take-all game at 7:05 p.m. in Missoula.

For nine innings this season, including four Tuesday, Osprey starting pitcher Cameron Smith owned the Chukars, refusing to allow a run. That all changed with two outs and two on in the fifth on an 0-2 pitch to Fukofuka.

“He battled off enough pitches and got enough of one to get it out of here and obviously that really ended up being the difference in the game,” Osprey manager Joe Mather said. “That’s their 3-hole hitter and it was against our best pitcher and he made a good swing on a pitch.”

From there the momentum stayed on the Chukars’ side. Missoula finally got something going offensively in the ninth when Jason Morozowski hit a leadoff single and Luke Lowery was hit by a Josh Staumont pitch. But Staumont responded by striking out Matt Railey and retiring Joey Armstrong on a fly ball to center.

“Fuko got us out in front, but I thought our pitchers did an outstanding job,” Idaho Falls manager Justin Gemoll said. “(Starter Derek) Gordon, they got some runs off him early. It’s a really good baseball team here in Missoula, really good hitters. But I thought he bounced back well.”

Gordon was a warrior, allowing three runs on three hits in 62/3 innings. He also recorded 10 strikeouts, the most by a Chukars pitcher in a game all season.

From there Drew Milligan and Staumont shut down the hosts in relief.

“I actually thought (Gordon) pitched a pretty good game,” Mather said. “He was one of the better pitchers in the league. Maybe not win-loss wise but his ERA was good, he throws strikes.

“That was it. I don’t think our guys were necessarily pressing. We had 17 (runs) the game before and it’s hard to repeat that.”

The Osprey jumped on Gordon in the first inning, scoring two runs. Leadoff hitter Raymel Flores drew a walk and Morozowski drove him home on a one-out double to right center field.

The Osprey’s second run came as a result of an error by Idaho Falls first baseman Josh Banuelos. Byler hit a bouncer to first that Banuelos misplayed then threw away in haste, allowing Morozowski to score from second.

Banuelos hit a bloop single and moved to second in the Idaho Falls second inning. But Smith buckled down, striking out Marten Gasparini and Xavier Fernandez to end the threat.

Osprey catcher Francis Christy blasted a one-out solo home run to stretch his team’s lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the second. Idaho Falls had a baserunner in the fourth but again Smith slammed the door, striking out Gasparini.

The Chukars’ fifth-inning rally started when a Fernandez grounder scooted under Simmons’ glove at third and rolled into left field. Two outs later, DJ Burt lined a single up the middle to set the stage for Fukofuka’s three-run blast.

Idaho Falls added an insurance run in the eighth and will take momentum into Game 3 tonight after being humbled by the Osprey at home on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

“The key (Wednesday) is going to be pitching and defense, that’s playoff baseball,” Mather said. “Hopefully we come out and score a bunch of runs early. We did that today but we couldn’t add on to it.

“These guys have a ton of fight in them left. I know they’re going to be itching to go.”

The Post Register contributed to this report

Osprey pound Chukars 17-9 in Pioneer League championship-opener

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Sunday marked the Idaho Falls Chukars’ final home game of 2015. It was game one of the Pioneer League championship series.

It ended up being one of Idaho Falls’ worst losses of the season.

Aided by four home runs, the Missoula Osprey pounded the Chukars 17-9 in front of 1,044 fans Sunday at Melaleuca Field. One more win will net the Osprey their fourth Pioneer League title.

“We’re playing a pretty dang good team, if not the hottest team in the league,” Missoula’s first-year manager Joe Mather said. “By no means is the series over. We’re going to come out and work hard on Tuesday and not take anything for granted.”

I.F. gave up 16 runs in each of its first two games of the season, both losses to Grand Junction. The Chukars went 77 games without giving up that many runs in a game. The streak ended at the worst time.

Arnaldo Hernandez made his second start for I.F. after being called up from the Arizona League on Sept. 7. He lasted gave up three runs — all in the top of the second — in three innings. All three runs were unearned due to an error by shortstop Marten Gasparini, but Hernandez was not blameless. He gave up two hits, four walks and a 441-foot two-run home run to Kal Simmons (4 for 5, six RBIs).

Todd Eaton relieved Hernandez in the fourth, but he lasted 0.1 innings. Eaton gave up four runs (all earned) for a game ERA of 108.00.

Cruz Guevara replaced Eaton and gave up a 452-foot two-run home run to Jason Morozowski.

“We left some balls up, and they took advantage of our mistakes,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “We have to do a better job executing.”

The Osprey increased their lead to 16-4 in the top of the seventh inning on a grand slam from shortstop Isan Diaz.

In six games from Sept. 6 to Sept. 9, Missoula scored 16 total runs. They hadn’t scored more than 10 runs since Aug. 25.

Sunday’s win extended Missoula’s three-game playoff winning streak. They scored 13 total runs in their two wins over Billings. The Osprey’s 17 runs on Sunday are a season-high and the most they’ve scored in a game since their 22 on July 25, 2014.

“The bats have really come on at the right time,” Mather said. “We were fortunate enough to get pitches to hit, and the guys executed.”

First baseman Josh Banuelos (3 for 4, walk), left fielder Roman Collins (3 for 5, double) and third baseman Jose Martinez (3 for 4, triple, walk) each had three hits for the Chukars.

Monday is a travel day for each team, so the series will resume in Missoula Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. I.F. sends right-hander Derek Gordon to the mound to face lefty Cameron Smith.

A win would net the Osprey their first Pioneer League title since 2012.

Two wins would give the Chukars their second Pioneer League championship since becoming a Kansas City Royals affiliate in 2004.

“I’m proud of the way these guys have battled all year,” Gemoll said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Chukars surrender three-run lead in eighth, lose 6-5 to Orem

The Idaho Falls Chukars held a three-run lead with six outs remaining. Then they led by one with two outs.

If they preserved the lead, they’d be headed to the Pioneer League championship.

Now they’re heading to an elimination game.

The Orem Owlz clawed back from a 5-2 eighth-inning deficit and earned a 6-5 walkoff win in game two of the Pioneer League South Division championship series Thursday at Orem, Utah. Tonight’s game in Orem will determine who advances to the championship.

After three scoreless innings, the Chukars took control of the game in the fourth.

First baseman Josh Banuelos (1 for 4) drove in second baseman D.J. Burt with a two-out double. The next batter was designated hitter Brandon Dulin, who bombed a two-run home run for a 3-0 lead.

Orem’s designated hitter Jared Walsh answered, hitting solo home runs in the fourth and sixth innings to cut I.F.’s lead to 3-2.

But the Chukars extended the lead back to three in the top of the eighth. Right fielder Amalani Fukofuka (1 for 4) hit an RBI double, and he scored two batters later on a single from Dulin (2 for 4).

I.F.’s bullpen woes began with Matt Ditman, who loaded the bases with no outs to start the bottom of the eighth. Orem scored one run on a groundout, and another came in on an error from shortstop Marten Gasparini. Ditman suddenly had a one-run lead to work with, and the bases were loaded with one out, but he escaped the threat.

Brian Bayliss recorded the first out of the ninth inning, but he subsequently walked first baseman Jeff Boehm. The next batter was center fielder Jared Foster, who drove Boehm in with a double. Bayliss walked the next two batters, bringing up catcher Angel Genao. He grounded to Burt, but the Chukars couldn’t complete the double play, and the Owlz forced another game.

Chukars starter Bryan Brickhouse gave up one run (earned) on four hits, a walk and three strikeouts in his four innings of work.

Julio Pinto gets the start tonight for the Chukars in their playoff rubber-match at Orem. First pitch is scheduled for 6:15.

In the North Division, Missoula knotted up its series with Billings after a 7-5 win Thursday night.

Royals honor Fukofuka, Gordon

On Thursday, the Kansas City Royals announced their players and pitchers of the year for each minor league affiliate. Fukofuka was named I.F.’s player of the year, and Derek Gordon was named its pitcher of the year.

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.

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.”

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

Chukars Notebook: Second half resurgance

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

History is brewing at Melaleuca Field.

Second baseman D.J. Burt chases down a ball during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-8 loss to Ogden on June 31 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Second baseman D.J. Burt chases down a ball during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-8 loss to Ogden on June 31 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars enter today’s game against Grand Junction with a 19-9 second half record, tops in the Pioneer League. That record is even more impressive when compared to the Chukars’ first half, when they finished dead last at 13-25.

I.F. is currently tied with Ogden in the Pioneer League South Division for the second half. Even if the Chukars miss the playoffs, they might finish with the winningest half since they became a Kansas City Royals affiliate.

The Chukars joined the Royals’ organization in 2004. Since then, their best half was in 2009, when they went 23-14 to end the season. The Chukars would need to go at least 5-5 to surpass the 2009 mark.

It should be noted that the halfway point of a season is an arbitrary endpoint. In other words, the dividing line between the first 38 games and the last 38 games is essentially meaningless.

The beginning of a season is the most significant starting point for a baseball team, and I.F. has gone 32-34 since then. You can create any narrative you want by closing your eyes and randomly placing your finger on a calendar.

The Pioneer League, of course, doesn’t work like the MLB, which rewards season-long records. Teams only need one good half to be in the Pioneer League playoff hunt, as the Chukars have shown. But that doesn’t mean the Chukars went into a telephone booth on July 28 and came out a superteam.

That all said, several I.F. players and coaches said they hit a mental reset button after the first half ended. They knew July 28 marked a new season, and that mental rewiring counts for something.

Plus, several players have gone from bad to elite, and their improvement started almost squarely on July 28. Second baseman D.J. Burt and shortstop Marten Gasparini are at the top of that list.

After July 28, Burt was hitting .198/.324/.215 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). Through Friday, he was hitting .282/.389/.364, and his defense looks improved.

Gasparini’s slash line dropped to .205/.275/.346 through July 27. Now, it’s .262/.339/.419, although Gasparini might be done for the season because he is representing Team Italy in the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.

“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 told Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen on Aug. 11. “They’ve put in their time in the first half, and now everything’s clicking.”

The pitching is clicking, as well. I.F.’s first half team ERA was 5.33. It’s down to 4.93 on the season, thanks to pitchers like Davis (2.84 second-half ERA) Derek Gordon (3.12) and Josh Staumont (3.48, 34-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio).

I.F. has also been good/lucky in close games during the second game. The Chukars have won five extra-inning games (7-1 on the season), eight by one run and are 13-4 in games decided by two runs or fewer.

The Chukars will enjoy this success even if they miss the playoffs and fizzle over these last 10 games. Their players have developed in the second half, and that is ultimately all that matters in rookie ball.

PICOLLO VISIT’S I.F.

J.J. Picollo — the Royals’ vice president/assistant general manager for player personnel — has watched the Chukars since Thursday in Ogden, and he’ll be in Idaho Falls through today. He makes trips to see Kansas City’s three Rookie-level teams once a year.

Picollo said he’s here for two main reasons.

“One, getting to learn our new players, guys who were drafted this year. I saw a lot of them in mini-camp but didn’t see them in games,” said Picollo, who has held his current position since 2008. “The second thing is to look at the guys we’ve had in the system, see how they’re progressing, see where they’re at.”

INTERN MIGRATION

Chukars general manager Kevin Greene has been employing college interns since he became GM in 1993, and he believes the opportunties benefit him and the interns.

But every summer, he deals with the same issue: interns going back to school.

This summer, the Chukars had six administrative interns (some receive college credit, but all of them receive stipends, Greene said). Four have begun classes — Jake Guza (College of Idaho), Matthew Donovan, Aaron Palmberg (both BYU) and Desiree Cannon (Lewis and Clark). I.F. also lost several college-age concessions workers.

Greene and the Melaleuca Field staff aren’t too worried about being understaffed, though. After all, they’ve survived the intern migration for 22 years.

ROSTER MOVE

Last Sunday, right-handed pitcher Bryan Brickhouse made a three-inning rehab start for the Chukars against Grand Junction (he allowed two earned runs). The next day, Brickhouse was added to I.F.’s active roster.

This is Brickhouse’s third stint with the Chukars. He made one start for I.F. in 2012 and nine appearances (eight starts) in 2014.

WHO’S HOT?

2B D.J. Burt

Burt’s hot second half gets two mentions in this space. Since July 28, Burt his hitting .398 with nine extra-base hits, seven stolen bases and 15 walks. He’s also reached base (via a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch) in 46 straight games.

WHO’S NOT?

OF Brawlun Gomez

Gomez leads the Chukars with nine home runs, but he’s been in a major slump. In his last 11 games, Gomez is hitting 5 for 41 (.122) with two walks and 22 strikeouts. He has 79 strikeouts on the season, tied for first in the Pioneer League with Gasparini.

Chukars squander 3-0 lead in eighth inning, fall to Ogden 4-3

The Idaho Falls Chukars took a 3-0 lead over the Ogden Raptors into the eighth inning Thursday. An inning later, they walked off the field with a loss.

The Raptors scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to take a 4-3 lead, which they maintained for a win Thursday night at Lindquist Field in Ogden, Utah. Ogden’s two-game sweep shrunk Idaho Falls’ Pioneer League South Division second-half lead to one with 12 games to play.

Flores
Flores

I.F. got on the board first in the top of the second. First baseman Josh Banuelos led off with a single, and left fielder Roman Collins reached on an error a batter later. Designated hitter Kyle Pollock walked two batters later to bring up shortstop Jeckson Flores.

Flores might have been on the bench Thursday if Marten Gasparini was active. But Gasparini is currently in Japan representing Italy in the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup, which starts today and ends Sept. 6.

Flores (2 for 4) took advantage of his opportunity in the second, driving in Banuelos and Collins to give the Chukars a 2-0 lead.

That lead would hold until the seventh, when Flores hit a solo home run. Before that blast, Flores had gone nearly five minor league seasons and 974 plate appearances without hitting a home run.

Gordon
Gordon

I.F.’s pitching had silenced the Raptors up to that point. Starter Derek Gordon went five scoreless innings, giving up six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts. The right-hander is now second in the Pioneer League with 61 strikeouts (5.1 per start) on the season.

Fellow righty Alberto Rodriguez pitched two scoreless innings for I.F., as well, but he struggled in the eighth. Following a leadoff strikeout, Rodriquez gave up a solo home run to Alex Santana, a single to Matt Jones and an RBI single to Michael Medina.

Righty Brian Bayliss replaced Rodriguez to face Edwin Rios. The third baseman blasted a 439-foot two-run home run to right field, giving Ogden a 4-3 lead.

This is the third time the Chukars have blown a lead in the eighth inning or later this season. All three losses have come against the Raptors.

I.F. squandered an 8-7 lead heading into the eighth on July 3 (losing 14-10) and an 8-6 lead heading into the ninth on June 30.

Banuelos went 2 for 4 and second baseman D.J. Burt went 2 for 3 with a walk, extending his on-base streak to 44 games.

Idaho Falls (31-33 overall, 18-8 second half) returns home for a four-game series against Grand Junction (27-37, 7-19) starting tonight at 7:15. Ogden (36-28, 17-9) hosts Orem (37-27, 13-13) for a game series starting tonight, as well.

Chukars take opener versus Rockies 6-4

Idaho Falls Chukars left fielder Roman Collins, No. 25, slides into second base safe on an infield out in the second inning as Grand Junction second baseman #2, Jonathon Pinon is late with the tag in a Saturday night game from Suplizio Filed in Grand Junction,CO. (Christopher Tomlinson / Grand Junction Daily Sentinel)
Idaho Falls Chukars left fielder Roman Collins, No. 25, slides into second base safe on an infield out in the second inning as Grand Junction second baseman #2, Jonathon Pinon is late with the tag in a Saturday night game from Suplizio Filed in Grand Junction,CO. (Christopher Tomlinson / Grand Junction Daily Sentinel)

The second half continues to get better for the Idaho Falls Chukars.

Idaho Falls got another strong start from Derek Gordon, two three-run innings and balance from the lineup in a 6-4 win over the Grand Junction Rockies at Sam Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday night.

The Chukars improved to 29-30 overall and 16-5 in the second half. They lead the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings by three games over the Ogden Raptors and by five over the first-half champion Orem Owlz.

Outside of allowing two solo home runs to Jonathan Piron, Gordon was nearly untouchable. He allowed the solo shots in the second and fourth innings, but just two other hits and a walk while striking out four in 5.2 innings.

Cruz Guevara got the final out of the sixth, and hard-throwing Josh Staumont allowed two runs over the final three innings but closed it out.

The Chukars wiped out a 1-0 deficit in the third when Jeckson Flores walked and scored on DJ Burt’s one-out double to center. Amalani Fukofuka followed with a triple to right, giving I.F. a 2-1 lead. Fukofuka followed Burt home when the cutoff throw from shortstop Brendan Rogers sailed wide of third to make it 3-1.

Idaho Falls added three more runs in the sixth. Roman Collins led off with a single and Nick Dini followed with a single. After Brawlun Gomez and Ryan Dale Struck out, Flores reached on an error that scored Collins and Dini. Cody Jones then singled in Flores from third.

Jones, Burt, Fukofuka and Collins had three hits each for the Chukars, who outhit the Rockies 11-6.

The Chukars and Rockies (25-34 overall, 5-16 second half) play the second game of their four-game series at 4:05 p.m. today.