Tag: DJ Burt

Chukars shut down Ogden 4-1 for fifth straight win

In their final game before the all-star break, the Idaho Falls Chukars shut down the Ogden Raptors 4-1 Sunday at Lindquist Field.

The Chukars swept Ogden for the second straight two-game series, extending their season-long winning streak to five games and improving their second half record to 5-1.

Gordon.
Gordon.

Derek Gordon led the way, pitching six innings for his first professional win. In his eighth start of the season, the right-hander gave up one earned run on three hits, one walk and five strikeouts. His season ERA is now 3.38, third in the Pioneer League among starters.

The Chukars got the scoring started in the top of the second inning. Shortstop Marten Gasparini hit his Pioneer League-leading eighth triple of the season with one out in the second. The next batter, catcher Nick Dini, hit his second home run of the year, a 419-foot shot to left field to give Idaho Falls a 2-0 lead.

The Chukars took a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning on a passed ball that scored third baseman Jeckson Flores.

Ogden got its one run in the sixth on a Chris Godinez double and a Nick Sell single.

Idaho Falls got its fourth run a half inning later. With one out, second baseman DJ Burt tripled to right field. Left fielder Amalani Fukofuka drove him in during the next at-bat on a sacrifice fly.

Burt and Gasparini had identical batting lines: 2 for 4 with a triple and a run scored. Flores went 2 for 3 with a walk and Dini went 1 for 3 with a walk. First baseman Josh Banuelos and center fielder Cody Jones each went 2 for 5.

Right-hander Josh Staumont pitched two shutout innings in relief of Gordon. The Kansas City Royals’ second-round pick in the 2015 MLB draft threw 100 miles per hour five times, according to the Chukars’ Twitter account, topping out at 101 MPH.

Idaho Falls (18-26) is off until Thursday, when it travels to Helena for a three-game series. Fukofuka, Banuelos and left-handed reliever Tripp Davis are headed to Spokane, Wash., for Tuesday’s all-star game between the Pioneer League and the Northwest League.

Chukars Notebook: Coaches find positive signs from poor first half

Idaho Falls Chukars' manager Justin Gemoll jogs out of the dugout during the Chukars opening game June 18 at Melaleuca Field.   (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars’ pitching coach Jeff Suppan jogs out of the dugout during the Chukars opening game June 18 at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The Idaho Falls Chukars don’t concern themselves with wins and losses.

They prefer to win, of course, but the coaches and players value one thing more than anything else — development.

So when the coaches discuss the first half of the season, they don’t focus on the 13-25 first half record and last place finish in the Pioneer League South Division, nor do they prioritize some of the poor individual statistics. They want the players to take steps toward Major League Baseball. So far, the coaches — all in their first seasons with the Chukars — are pleased with their players’ progression.

“Obviously, we can improve on our execution offensively and defensively and make pitches when we have to,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “But that’s all part of the learning process of rookie ball.”

In the Pioneer League, Idaho Falls was middle of the pack to below-average in most pitching categories in the first half, and they were middle of the road to above average in batting.

A team doesn’t go 13-25 without a multitude of struggles.

But those stats mask some key factors, like the Chukars’ roster.

Idaho Falls has gained two batters and lost three, including Alexis Rivera, who was named a Pioneer League all-star despite playing for Single-A Lexington since July 5. The Chukars have welcomed in five pitchers and lost four, including two who joined Idaho Falls after opening day.

Hitting coach Andre David and pitching coach Jeff Suppan also live by the adage, “process over results.” It’s a phrase major league coaches use, too, because players only have so much control over the results once they complete a swing or throw a pitch.

David utlilizes this phrase especially when dealing with slumping hitters, like second baseman DJ Burt (.203 first half batting average) and shortstop Marten Gasparini (.205 first half).

“I don’t want guys like Burt and Gaspy to get result-oriented. It’s not the purpose of this,” David said. “You have to give yourself a little bit of breathing room and credit and spend a lot of time thinking about what will come of this experience.”

That’s why David, like the other coaches, works so hard on the mental side of the game.

“The swing follows the mind,” David said.

Suppan operates under a similar line of thinking. If Idaho Falls’ pitchers, especially the young ones, are improving their mechanics and decreasing mental mistakes, he’s encouraged. The pitching has struggled, but he’s seen progress.

“I’ve been happy with how starters have been able to go deeper into games,” Suppan said. “The relievers have been a little more efficient.”

All of these coaches, including bench coach Ramon Castro, hope they capture the second half division crown. So do the players.

But their main concern in the second half is further player development. A winning record would be gravy.

“We want them to win in Kansas City,” Gemoll said.

Post Register’s First Half Awards

Most Outstanding Position Player: OF Amalani Fukofuka

– Key first half stats: .342 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, .479 slugging percentage, 12 doubles, four triples, five stolen bases.

Most Outstanding Pitcher: RHP Derek Gordon

– Key first half stats: 3.94 ERA, 29.2 innings pitched, 34 strikeouts, 10 walks, 33 hits, three home runs, zero hit batters

FRIDAY’S COMEBACK

On Friday night, the Chukars erased an 8-2 ninth inning deficit to walkoff against Ogden 9-8.

This was the first time in four years that Idaho Falls came back from a deficit that large.

The last time the Chukars won a game after trailing by six or more runs was Aug. 4, 2011 at Orem. The Owlz held a 7-1 lead going into the eighth inning. Idaho Falls scored four in the eighth, two in the ninth and one in the 10th to win.

Friday’s win was also the largest home comeback since July 5, 2011. The Chukars trailed the Casper Ghosts (now the Grand Junction Rockies) 8-1 before rattling off five runs in the seventh and three in the eighth for the victory.

Friday marked Idaho Falls’ largest ninth inning comeback since the Chukars became a Kansas City Royals’ affiliate in 2004, according to Chukars’ director of broadcasting Alex Cohen.

FORMER CHUKARS ON THE MOVE

The Royals made multiple trades before Friday’s MLB trade deadline, and two of them involved former Chukars.

Last Sunday, Kansas City traded for pitcher Johnny Cueto, sending left-handed pitchers Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed and John Lamb to Cincinnati. Reed pitched 29.2 innings for Idaho Falls in 2013. Lamb pitched 41.1 innings for the Chukars in 2009 and 7.1 innings for them in 2012.

On Tuesday, the Royals acquired infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist from Oakland for left-hander Sean Manaea and right-handed Aaron Brooks, who pitched 79.2 innings for Idaho Falls in 2011.

WHO’S HOT?

SS Marten Gasparini

The cutoff between the season’s first and second halves occurred between Monday and Tuesday. Gasparini has made that (mostly arbitrary) dividing line look meaningful.

The 18-year-old Italian has gone 8 for 14 since Tuesday, with three triples (he leads the Pioneer League with seven) and three walks. His batting average has risen 36 points, his on-base percentage is up 39 points and his slugging percentage has increased 65 points since the second half began.

Gasparini’s most telling stat might be his strikeouts. He has led the league in strikeouts for a large chunk of the season, and his first half strikeout rate (strikeouts per plate appearance) was a monstrous 38.4 percent. In the second half, Gasparini’s strikeout rate is 17.6 percent, albeit in a tiny sample.

WHO’S NOT?

3B Ryan Dale

Dale is in the midst of his largest slump of the season. Since July 20, or 10 games, the 19-year-old Australian is hitting .188. He’s struck out 14 times and walked four times. In his 32 at-bats, Dale has hit two extra-base hits since July 20, and he’s committed two errors.

Chukars end long day with 9-8 extra-inning win

A long day had a satisfying conclusion for the Idaho Falls Chukars.

The Chukars weathered a rocky bus ride and an 11-inning nail-biter against Ogden for a 9-8 win, their fourth straight. This is their longest winning streak of the season.

Around 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, Chukars’ left-handed relief pitcher Nick Green posted a tweet.

“First bus broke down 4 hours ago. 2nd bus just blew a tire. Today is not our day #milbproblems,” Green wrote on Twitter.

Idaho Falls — coming off a 9-8, six-run comeback win the night before — arrived in Ogden about an hour later, in plenty of time for first pitch.

Before Friday, the Chukars hadn’t hit a home run since July 21. And Idaho Falls’ only round-tripper on Friday was an inside-the-parker by Amalani Fukofuka.

In Ogden’s small confines on Saturday, the Chukars got back over the wall.

Catcher Nick Dini (2 for 4, walk) hit an RBI double in the top of the third to give Idaho Falls a 1-0 lead. Two batters later, third baseman Logan Nottebrok hit his first professional home run, a two-run blast to extend the lead to 3-0.

Gomez
Gomez

Two innings later, with a 3-2 lead, Idaho Falls got another two-run home run, this time by right fielder Brawlun Gomez (2 for 5). It was Gomez’s sixth big fly of the year, and his fourth against Ogden.

Chukars’ starting pitcher Carter Hope got one out in the sixth inning when he was replaced. Idaho Falls had a 7-4 lead at the time. Hope gave up four earned runs in 5.1 innings on six hits, two walks and two strikeouts. It was Hope’s longest outing of the season (including three appearances in the Arizona League), but the right-hander also gave up his most earned runs in an appearance all year.

But Idaho Falls’ bullpen couldn’t hold the lead. Ogden scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh off left-hander Cruz Guevara to take an 8-7 lead. Guevara had pitched 11.2 scoreless innings heading into Saturday night.

The Chukars came back, scoring a run in the top of the eighth on three singles and an RBI groundout from center fielder Cody Jones.

It took three innings for either team to score after that. In the top of the 11th, Nottebrok (3 for 5) continued his hot night.

The 23-year-old led off the inning with a triple to center. DJ Burt pinch-ran for Nottebrok and scored two batters later on a single up the middle by Jeckson Flores.

Tripp Davis completed his second scoreless inning in the bottom of the 11th to shut the door. Davis escaped a bases-loaded, one-out situation the inning prior.

Idaho Falls (17-26) will try to sweep the two-game series versus Ogden (20-23) today at 4 p.m.

Chukars complete shocking comeback for 9-8 win over Ogden

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Once in a blue moon, a team makes a comeback like the Idaho Falls Chukars did on Friday night.

Fukofuka
Fukofuka

The Chukars were getting utterly dominated by the Ogden Raptors heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Then Idaho Falls designated hitter Amalani Fukofuka hit an inside-the-park home run that sent a jolt through Melaleuca Field. Six hits and seven runs later, the Chukars were mobbing first baseman Josh Banuelos on the basepaths.

The Chukars earned their third walkoff win of the season. But Friday’s 9-8 victory over Ogden was different. Out of nowhere. Miraculous.

“I’m pumped,” Fukofuka said after the game. “It shows that we have the potential to go all the way to the championship.”

Fukofuka (2 for 4) didn’t have a home run in his first 162 at-bats this season as he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth. At the time, the Chukars were down 8-2 and had been outhit 15-3.

Fukofuka jumped on a Clint Freeman fastball and hit a line drive to center field. Ogden’s Gage Green dove at the ball, which was feet in front of him, and it rolled to the center field wall.

“Once he dove, I knew I had a chance,” Fukofuka said.

On Tuesday against Orem, with the Chukars trailing 5-4 with two outs and no one on in the ninth, Chukars center fielder Cody Jones hit a line drive to center that scooted to the wall. Gemoll waved Jones home, but he was out by three feet.

On Friday, Gemoll didn’t hesitate to wave the speedy Fukofuka home, and he scored standing up.

Fukofuka said his teammates had made fun of him for his lack of home runs going into Friday’s game.

“If you can’t hit it out, run it out,” Fukofuka said with a laugh.

Less than half of the crowd was still in attendance in the ninth, but Melaleuca Field was its loudest after Fukofuka’s home run.

“It was a big momentum-starter for us,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said.

Banuelos (2 for 5) hit a single directly after Fukofuka’s home run and reached second on an error. Two batters later, Marten Gasparini (1 for 3, walk) hit an RBI single. Kyle Pollock singled. Brawlun Gomez (2 for 4) doubled. Ryan Dale got hit by a pitch. Cody Jones walked.

Suddenly, the Chukars were down 8-6 with the bases loaded and one out.

DJ Burt (2 for 5) subsequently singled.

8-7.

Fukofuka came up again. He hit a grounder to first base, which Matt Jones grabbed on a dive. But his throw was ruled late, a call Ogden’s manager John Shoemaker did not agree with.

8-8.

Banuelos came up. He grounded up the middle. Second baseman Kelvin Ramos made a diving stop, but his throw home was a second late.

9-8. Banuelos was swallowed by a mass of Chukars at second base.

The only other walkoff wins for Idaho Falls this season were July 16 (on a two-run home run by Roman Collins) and July 19 (on a suicide squeeze by Dale).

This was also the Chukars’ largest comeback win of the season. The largest deficit they overcame before was three runs.

“It’s good for these kids to pull out games like that,” Gemoll said. “Have fun, get some momentum. The energy shows they never give up, fighting until the end. That showed tonight.”

Idaho Falls (16-26) travels to Ogden (20-22) for a two-game series starting tonight at 7.

Dini, Concepcion lead Chukars past Ogden 8-2

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Idaho Falls Chukars catcher Nick Dini shaved his head last night. No reason, in particular. He wanted a trim, but his teammates wanted him to shave his entire head, so he went with it.

Dini
Dini

“I told the kid, ‘You know what, just do it,’ ” Dini said. “He cut it, and that was that.”

The Chukars also looked different at Melaleuca Field on Thursday, at least compared to the first half. Idaho Falls executed better than the Ogden Raptors and made fewer mistakes en route to an 8-2 win, its second straight. The Chukars are 2-1 in the second half, the first time they’ve been over .500 in either half this season.

“Everybody in that locker room knows that we’re a much better team than what we showed in that first half,” Dini said. “We’ve been saying all along that once the second half starts, we’re a new ball club and we’re coming out with a lot of confidence. I think that’s shown the last couple of days.”

Dini went 3 for 4 with two doubles Thursday night, increasing his season batting average to .333. He’s had only 67 at-bats this season, splitting time behind the plate with Kyle Pollock (.293 batting average in 82 at-bats) and Pedro Gonzalez (.328 in 58).

“I tell myself every time I play, ‘Do what I do and put good at-bats together and try to get into the lineup tomorrow,’” Dini said.

Despite a shaky inning, Chukars starting pitcher Daniel Concepcion pitched well for his third straight outing.

In the second inning, the right-hander gave up two runs, but neither were earned due to two errors on one play by second baseman DJ Burt. Concepcion wasn’t blameless, though. He walked three and gave up two hits in the frame.

Concepcion didn’t give up any walks, or runs, in his other four innings. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 14 innings pitched, despite seven walks and only nine strikeouts. His ERA is 1.65 with the Chukars.

“(I try) to get ahead, attack every hitter and pitch to contact,” Concepcion said. “Establish fastball and finish with the out pitch.”

Idaho Falls scored seven straight runs from the second inning on, thanks in large part to five errors by the Raptors.

Shortstop Marten Gasparini went 2 for 3 with two walks, center fielder Cody Jones went 3 for 5 and first baseman Logan Nottebrok went 1 for 3 with a walk.

The Chukars (15-26) send Todd Eaton to the hill tomorrow night at 7:15, looking for a two-game sweep of the Raptors (20-21)

Notes:

– Chukars’ right-handed relief pitcher Josh Staumont threw his fastball 101 miles per hour twice Thursday, according to Melaleuca Field’s in-stadium TrackMan radar gun system. He hit 100 miles per hour four times, as well.

“It’s a challenge. I haven’t seen 101 ever,” Dini said. “This kid will probably be a big-leaguer one day, and I can tell people that I caught him. It’s pretty cool.”

Staumont pitched two scoreless innings on two hits and three strikeouts.

– Ogden made an odd defensive move whenever Chukars’ right fielder Brawlun Gomez came up against a left-handed pitcher Thursday. Raptors’ center fielder Deion Ulmer and left fielder Matt Jones switched positions.

Ogden manager John Shoemaker said the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization is using its Rookie-level teams (Ogden and the AZL Dodgers) to experiment with defensive alignments. Thanks to scouting reports, the Raptors discovered that the right-handed Gomez pulls the ball to left field almost every time he faces a left-hander. Therefore, Ogden wanted Ulmer — a rangier outfielder than Jones — to play left.

Gomez popped out to shortstop and struck out in his two plate appearances against left-hander Michael Boyle, Ogden’s only lefty of the game.

– Idaho Falls first baseman Josh Banuelos missed his fourth straight game. The normal starter at first base is sore and getting rest this week, according to manager Justin Gemoll. Banuelos should be in the lineup soon, Gemoll said, and will be ready to play in next week’s Pioneer League vs. Northwest League All-Star Game in Spokane.

Chukars suffer second walkoff loss in three games

Another night, another walkoff loss for the Idaho Falls Chukars.

The Chukars lost a 2-0 lead to the Orem Owlz on Saturday, then forced a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning. But the Owlz walked off for the second time in three nights, winning 6-5 at Brent Brown Stadium. The win gave Orem the first half title crown in the Pioneer League South Division.

Idaho Falls lost on a walkoff double to Orem on Thursday, and the narrative from that game was similar to Saturday’s: good starting pitching, good hitting and struggles with runners on base.

The Chukars had 17 hits on Saturday, but they went 4 for 15 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on.

Idaho Falls took a 2-0 lead through four innings on 11 hits, but could’ve scored more.

The Chukars scored once in the first on an RBI single from first baseman Josh Banuelos (2 for 4, walk). Left fielder Roman Collins (3 for 5) hit an infield single, but center fielder Amalani Fukofuka (1 for 4, walk) was thrown out at home plate on the play. Shortstop Marten Gasparini (1 for 5, triple) struck out in the next at-bat, stranding runners at first and second base.

The Chukars led off the next inning with two singles, but third baseman Ryan Dale (1 for 4) hit into a double play and center fielder Cody Jones (2 for 4) grounded out to end the inning.

Gasparini struck out again to end the third inning, only this time, he stranded runners at second and third base.

The Chukars held the 2-0 lead into the seventh, but left-handed reliever Hunter Haynes gave up five unearned runs, which stemmed from a Gasparini error.

Idaho Falls immediately answered the next inning, scoring three runs. The Chukars tied the game on an RBI double from Jones.

But right-handed Alberto Rodriguez couldn’t preserve the tie in the bottom of the ninth, giving up a walk, a stolen base and an RBI single to end the game.

Idaho Falls starting pitcher Daniel Concepcion pitched five scoreless innings in his third start for the Chukars. The right-hander gave up three hits and a walk with two strikeouts, and his season ERA dropped to 2.38.

Desginated hitter Nick Dini went 3 for 4 with a double, catcher Pedro Gonzalez went 2 for 3 with a double and second baseman DJ Burt went 2 for 5.

The Owlz (23-13) will attempt to sweep their four-game series against the Chukars (12-24) today at 4:15 p.m.

Chukars play well but lose to Orem 3-2 in walkoff fashion

The Idaho Falls Chukars committed few mistakes against the Orem Owlz on Thursday night.

But a couple of bad pitches and a passed ball spelled the Chukars’ doom in their 3-2 loss, which Orem won in walkoff fashion at Brent Brown Ballpark.

The Chukars got on the board first in the top of the first inning. Shortstop Jeckson Flores hit a leadoff double to left field and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman DJ Burt. Two batters later, first baseman Josh Banuelos reached on an error by left fielder Jared Foster, allowing Flores to score.

But the lead quickly disappeared. Three singles and two stolen bases off Chukars starting pitcher Derek Gordon resulted in a 2-1 lead for Orem after the first.

Gordon.
Gordon.

Gordon settled down after the slow start. On the night, he gave up four hits, one walk and two earned runs with six strikeouts in five innings. In his last three starts, Gordon has gone 15.1 innings, giving up 13 hits, four earned runs and six walks with 20 strikeouts (2.38 ERA). Gordon’s season ERA is now 3.94, and he’s in the top five among Pioneer League pitchers in strikeouts.

The Chukars tied the game in the sixth. Left fielder Roman Collins led the inning off with a double and scored on a one-out sacrifice fly by right fielder Brawlun Gomez.

In the bottom of the ninth, Chukars left-handed reliever Nick Green should have retired the side in order. Green struck out the first batter looking and got the second batter, Hutton Moyer, to swing at strike three, but catcher Kyle Pollock couldn’t handle the pitch. The passed ball allowed Moyer to advance to first.

Green got the next batter to pop out, bringing up Foster with two outs and Moyer at first. Foster doubled to center field, and the throw home was not in time to get Moyer out, giving Orem the walkoff win.

Idaho Falls outhit Orem 8-6 and didn’t commit a fielding error, while the Owlz committed four. But the Chukars were 0 for 15 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base.

Flores and Pollock each went 2 for 4, while Gomez and third baseman Ryan Dale each went 1 for 3 with a double.

The Chukars (12-22) and the Owlz (21-13) play game two tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Logan Nottebrok, pitching lifts Idaho Falls in 5-1 win

Idaho Falls pitcher Daniel Concepcion releases a pitch during Monday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls pitcher Daniel Concepcion releases a pitch during Monday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Logan Nottebrok couldn’t speak a week ago. On Monday night, the first baseman was one of the Idaho Falls Chukars’ offensive stars.

Nottebrok tripled and scored the game-tying run in the sixth inning, then walked to drive in the go-ahead run in the seventh. That run was decisive in the Chukars’ 5-1 win over Great Falls Monday at Melaleuca Field.

“It feels good to hit the ball hard,” Nottebrok said.

Nottebrok has been battling strep throat and pneumonia since the Chukars’ road series against Great Falls from July 7-9. His performance reflected his illness. In three games from July 7-15, Nottebrok went 0 for 10 with a walk. His batting average and slugging percentage going into Monday were each .190 (team-lows).

“My energy’s been a little low, but that’s part of baseball,” said Nottebrok, a 2015 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M. “You have to come out and grind.”

Nottebrok has been guzzling energy drinks and the powdered vitamin drink mix Emergen-C to try to improve his condition. But his voice, while now audible, is hoarse.

Before Friday’s game against Missoula, Chukars hitting coach Andre David worked with Nottebrok on some adjustments: lowering his hands during his batting stance and using his lower body more during his swing. Neither David nor Nottebrok think Nottebrok’s improved performance since then is a coincidence.

Nottebrok went 1 for 4 on Friday with a walk and three hard-hit outs. On Monday, he was a crucial piece in turning Idaho Falls’ one-run deficit into a one-run lead that grew afterwards.

“Selection is better,” David said. “Mentally, I think he feels confident now. He knows if he gets something, he can take a pretty good swing. That’s all we ask.”

Nottebrok’s heroics on Monday would have been inconsequential if not for strong outing by the Chukars’ pitchers.

Great Falls' Antonio Rodriguez slides safely in to second base while Idaho Falls' D.J. Burt tries to make the catch during Monday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Great Falls’ Antonio Rodriguez slides safely in to second base while Idaho Falls’ D.J. Burt tries to make the catch during Monday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Right-hander Daniel Concepcion made his second start for Idaho Falls, going four scoreless innings on four hits, three walks and two strikeouts.

Fellow righty Josh Staumont, who walked five batters in 0.2 innings Thursday against Missoula, was more accurate Monday. He gave up one run (earned) on one hit, two walks and four strikeouts in two innings. His fastball touched 99 miles per hour.

Lefty Hunter Haynes pitched the final three innings and didn’t give up a run. He allowed a hit and two walks while striking out four.

“Especially in this league, guys are going to walk guys. The key is how they bounce back,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “(Pitching coach Jeff Suppan) does a great job with these kids of getting them to trust their stuff and attack the zone.”

Right fielder Brawlun Gomez hit a 453-foot two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth to increase Idaho Falls’ lead to 4-1.

Idaho Falls has now won five of its last six games.

The Chukars (12-20) go for the series victory over the Voyagers (15-13) tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Sunday’s extra-inning thriller

The Orem Owlz’s 7-4 win over Helena on Sunday eliminated the Chukars from first half Pioneer League South Division contention. But the Chukars did all they could to stay alive for at least another day.

Idaho Falls defeated Great Falls 4-3 in Sunday afternoon’s up-and-down, 11-inning contest.

The Chukars took a 2-0 lead into the fifth inning, but Great Falls scored three combined runs in the fifth and sixth to take a 3-2 lead.

With one out in the ninth inning, third baseman Jeckson Flores walked and scored the game-tying run on a double from Pedro Gonzalez, sending it into extra innings.

In the bottom of the 11th, shortstop Marten Gasparini hit a leadoff single and Flores bunted him over. Gasparini then stole third and Gonzalez was intentionally walked. Designated hitter Ryan Dale came up and dropped down a suicide squeeze bunt. It rolled past the pitcher and scored Gasparini for a Chukars victory.

Great Falls snaps Chukars’ three-game winning streak

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The Idaho Falls Chukars had a chance to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games Saturday.

The Great Falls Voyagers stifled any hopes, and they put the Chukars on the brink of first half elimination from the Pioneer League South Division title.

Great Falls jumped all over Idaho Falls’ pitching for a 13-6 win Saturday night at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars (10-20) are now one loss, or one Orem Owlz win, away from first half elimination.

“This setting with the short season, 30 games goes pretty quick,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “You don’t have a chance to go through any kind of bad spell as you would in a major league season, 162 games. But our guys are battling hard and I’m happy with how they’re playing.”

Chukars starting pitcher Dylan Sons began his appearance on fire, striking out the first two batters on seven pitches. But he gave up three straight hits, including a two-run home run to designated hitter Zach Fish.

Sons pitched scoreless second and third innings but ran into a wall in the fourth. Five hits and two walks led to five runs for Great Falls, and it forced Sons out of the game.

Sons has now given up at least four earned runs in five of his six starts this season, increasing his ERA to 10.73.

“They succeeded on my mistakes,” Sons said. “Just getting a little out of my delivery, leaving the ball up, not commanding the strike zone.”

The Voyagers scored six more runs off reliever Brian Bayliss, whose ERA is now 10.22.

Second baseman DJ Burt continued his quiet hot streak. He’s still hitting below .200 (.194, to be exact), where he’s been all season, and he’s gotten five hits in his last 28 at-bats (.179 batting average). But he’s drawn nine walks in that span, giving him 19 on the season (third most in the Pioneer League).

“He’s made some big adjustments over the last three weeks,” Gemoll said. “The other night, he drew three walks and scored four runs. That’s the kind of player he’s gonna have to be at the higher levels.”

Burt, selected by Kansas City in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB draft, walked and hit an RBI single on Saturday to add to his .336 on-base percentage going into the night.

“I’m seeing the ball better now and just being more selective,” Burt said.

Despite the slow start to the season, Gemoll said he’s comfortable 30 games into his first year as the Chukars manager.

First baseman Josh Banuelos drew two walks, but Chukar fans will remember his 447-foot two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the sixth.

Left fielder Roman Collins went 2 for 4 with a double.

“The kids are having a good time, they’re learning and they’re getting after it,” Gemoll said.

The Chukars host the Voyagers (15-11) today at 4 p.m.

Amalani Fukofuka keeps rolling in Chukars’ 13-4 win

Amalani Fukofuka of the Idaho Falls Chukars slides past Missoula Osprey catcher Luke Lowery as he scores the first run of the game Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Photographer Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Amalani Fukofuka of the Idaho Falls Chukars slides past Missoula Osprey catcher Luke Lowery as he scores the first run of the game Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Photographer Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

When outfielder Amalani Fukofuka comes to home plate, Idaho Falls Chukars fans shower him with chants of “Fooooook.”

Fukofuka (pronounced “Fuke-oh-fuke-uh”) has become a fan favorite in his 26 games with the Chukars this season. Part of that is because of his unique last name. Much more of that is a result of his performance.

Fukofuka is hitting .364 this season, with 10 doubles (tied for second in the Pioneer League), three triples (top 10) and six stolen bases (top 20). He continued his season-long tear with a 3 for 5 performance in Friday’s 13-4 win over the Missoula Osprey at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars swept the three-game home series against the Osprey.

“Hopefully I can keep it going,” Fukofuka said.

Chukars starting pitcher Derek Gordon cruised through his first four innings, and he struck out the first two batters of the fifth inning. But a single, double and walk forced him out of the game, preventing the right-hander from his first professional win.

“Especially in this game, it’s more about the team wins,” Gordon said. “(Pitching coach Jeff) Suppan really works with us in trying to keep the ball down and being competitive with every pitch, and that’s mostly what I focus on when a guy comes up.”

Gordon said fatigue got to him in the fifth, and with roughly 80 pitches after the walk, Gordon was nearing his pitch count limit, so manager Justin Gemoll decided to replace him.

“I was frustrated with myself more than anything,” Gordon said.

Fellow right-hander Alberto Rodriguez kept Gordon’s earned run total at one, going 2.1 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Rodriguez has not allowed an earned run in 13 innings pitched this season, despite seven walks (he’s allowed two unearned runs).

Isan Diaz, of the Missoula Osprey, narrowly escapes being tagged out at second by Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Jeckson Flores on Friday at Melaleuca Field.     (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Isan Diaz, of the Missoula Osprey, narrowly escapes being tagged out at second by Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Jeckson Flores on Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

As strong as Fukofuka has been at the plate this season, he hasn’t been perfect. The 19-year-old has drawn four walks despite leading the Chukars with 118 at-bats. He also hasn’t hit a home run this season, and he’s blasted two in his three-year professional career.

“I’m pretty aggressive. That’s partly why I don’t have as many walks as other people,” Fukofuka said. “But that’s fine with me as long as I’m hitting the ball hard.”

Second baseman DJ Burt went 1 for 2 with three walks, giving him a team-high 18 bases on balls. Burt’s patience is a pleasant sign for Idaho Falls’ coaching staff, considering he’s batting .191.

Designated hitter Ryan Dale hit his first professional home run in the top of the eighth, a three-run shot to give Idaho Falls a 13-4 lead.

The Chukars (10-19) host Great Falls (14-11) at 7:15 p.m. tonight for the first game in a four-game series.

O’Hearn promoted

First baseman Ryan O’Hearn moved up from Idaho Falls to the Kansas City Royals short-season Single-A affiliate Lexington to start this season. On Friday, O’Hearn moved up from the Legends to the advanced Single-A Wilmington Blue Rocks.

O’Hearn won the Pioneer League MVP last season with the Chukars. He hit .361 with 13 home runs and a .444 on-base percentage in 249 at-bats for Idaho Falls.

This season in 314 at-bats with Lexington, O’Hearn hit .277 with 19 home runs and a .351 on-base percentage.