Tag: Jordan Ebert

Chukars beat Orem 10-6 in the second-to-last game of 2016

Chukars catcher Mark Sanchez (15) tries to slide by Owlz infielder Franklin Torres (6) during  Wednesday's game at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)
Chukars catcher Mark Sanchez (15) tries to slide by Owlz infielder Franklin Torres (6) during Wednesday’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars overcame some shaky pitching and three errors from the defense to pull out a 10-6 win over the Orem Owlz in front of 1,321 fans Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.

Idaho Falls overcame the sloppy play with an offensive performance that brought back memories from the first half of the Pioneer League season, when Chukars bashed their way to 22 wins. Idaho Falls finished with five extra-base hits and 15 hits Wednesday.

Four times two

The Chukars were muddling through the first four innings, trailing 4-2 before coming alive with four runs in the fifth. Nick Heath started the surge with a walk and a stolen base, and he moved to third on a throwing error.

Ricky Aracena then struck out, but reached first on a wild pitch. Manny Olloque followed with a two-run double to left and moved to third on the the throw. After Yeison Melo struck out, Nick Dini doubled in Olloque. And with two outs, MJ Sanchez drove in Dini with a single to right.

Idaho Falls added another four-spot in the seventh, the first coming home on another Sanchez RBI single. Jordan Ebert tripled to score Sanchez and Olloque, and then came home on a throwing error.

Orem cut the deficit to four with a run in the eighth and had the bases loaded in the ninth before Drew Milligan got a ground ball to end the threat.

Olloque was 3 for 5 with a double, two runs and two RBIs while Ebert was 2 for 4 with a double, a triple, a run and two RBIs.

Jason Freeman earned the win in relief, allowing two runs (one earned) on two hits with one walk and five strikeouts.

Player of the game

Idaho Falls catcher MJ Sanchez

It’s been a tough year for Sanchez, a 2015 35th-round draft pick who has been stuck behind league MVP Meibrys Viloria at catcher. Sanchez has played in just 21 games and had 70 at-bats, and Wednesday’s game was his best. The Corono, Calif., native went 4 for 4 with a double, two runs and two RBIs.

Up next

Idaho Falls (39-36 overall, 17-20 second half) wraps up the 2016 season with a final home game against Orem. There will be a fireworks display following the game.

Chukars’ playoff hopes end a with loss in 10th at Ogden

chukars-logo-125x125

A season of near-misses and just plain miscues were summed up perfectly in Monday’s 10-9 loss to the Orem Owlz.

Idaho Falls repeatedly grabbed the lead only to give it back with sloppy defense and pitching, eventually coughing up a one-run lead in the bottom of the 10th inning to fall 10-9 to the Owlz and end their playoff hopes. Idaho Falls was eliminated with three games remaining in the regular season.

Blown chances

Idaho Falls held leads of 5-1, 6-5, 8-6 and finally 9-8, but gave up the advantage each time.

The last two innings were particularly painful. The Chukars scored twice in the top of the ninth to take an 8-6 lead, sparked by RBI singles from Nick Dini and Ryan Dale. But the Owlz answered with two in the bottom of the ninth, with runs scoring on a bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch.

Idaho Falls once again took the lead in the top of the 10th, loading the bases with nobody out before Luke Willis grounded into a double play that plated a run. But Orem had a final answer, getting back-to-back one-out doubles from L.J. Kalawaia and Cody Ramer and a game-ending single from Nick Flair.

The Chukars got a good start from Matt Portland, who didn’t make it out of the first inning in his last start. The left-hander allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts.

And the I.F. offense, which has struggled in the second half, pounded out 19 hits and drew three walks. But only four of those hits went for extra bases, and the Chukars stranded 11 runners on base while going 7 for 21 with runners in scoring position.

The Chukars fell to 2-5 in extra-inning games this season, going 0-5 on the road and 2-0 at home. I.F. fell to 5-13 on the road in the second half and 12-25 overall.

Player of the game

Idaho Falls right fielder Yeison Melo

Melo mashed Orem pitching Monday, going 5 for 6 with two doubles and three runs. He pushed his season batting average to. 326.

Up next

Idaho Falls finishes its road schedule today with a game against Orem at 7:05 p.m. The teams then head north on I15 to complete the regular season with games at Melaleuca Field on Wednesday and Thursday. First pitch both nights is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. There will be fireworks following the final game Thursday.

Sunday’s game

CHUKARS 8, RAPTORS 7: At Ogden, Utah, Idaho Falls scored four times in the top of the ninth inning and rallied for a season-saving victory at Lindquist Field.

Ogden led 7-4 entering the ninth, but Idaho Falls scored four times with the help of two Raptors’ errors. Jordan Ebert reachedon a error to lead off and Rudy Martin followed with a double. Nick Heath drove in the first run with a single to center.

After a pitching change, the Chukars pulled out a double steal, with Martin coming home and Heath moving to second. After Ricky Aracena’s fielder’s choice wiped out Heath, Meibrys Viloria reached on second error. Joe Dudek brought Aracena home with a looper to center, and Manny Olloque drove in the winning run with a sac fly to right.

Jason Freeman pitched a perfect ninth to close out the win.

Olloque led the Chukars, going 2 for 4 with his seventh homer of the year. Martin was also 2 for 4 with his second homer.

Wild night: Chukars inch closer to first place with an 11-10 win over Ogden

Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman Jordan Ebert rounds third base in the first inning of the game aganist the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman Jordan Ebert rounds third base in the first inning of the game aganist the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars and Ogden Raptors began Tuesday’s game in almost comedic fashion, peppering the first inning with errors and poorly located pitches.

The first inning ended with 11 unearned runs, a fitting start to a three-and-a-half-hour game (I.F.’s 18-7 win on Monday also lasted that long). The Chukars waded through the mess and prevailed 11-10 at Melaleuca Field. I.F. has now taken the first three games of the four-game series, and sits 2.5 games behind Grand Junction for first place in the Pioneer League South Division. Nine games remain.

Wild first inning

The the first inning began with an error from shortstop Ricky Aracena. The inning ended 45 minutes later.

The intervening minutes were filled with three additional errors, eight hits and 11 runs.

Ogden scored the first five of those runs thanks in large part to Aracena’s boot on a sharp ground ball. In fact, four of the Raptors’ runs came with two outs, and none of the runs against starter Matt Portland were earned.

Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Matt Portland pitches during the first inning of the game aganist the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Matt Portland pitches during the first inning of the game against the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)

But just because Portland’s ERA went down doesn’t mean he pitched well. The left-hander fell behind seven of the eight batters he faced, and 20 of his 41 pitches were balls. Aracena’s error and a couple of bloop singles turned a rough inning into a short outing. Portland was relieved by Nick Andros with two outs in the top of the first.

Portland’s final batter was Jordan Paroubeck, who hit a bloop double that resulted in a collision between second baseman Jordan Ebert and right fielder Nick Heath. Ebert was fine, but Heath was shaken up and left the game.

The Raptors helped the Chukars get back into the game in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Meibrys Viloria and Yeison Melo each reached on fielding errors by Ogden’s middle infield. Joe Dudek and Angelo Castellano followed with RBI hits, and Dudek scored on a wild pitch to cut the deficit to 5-4.

With two outs, Ebert doubled to drive in Castellano. Rudy Martin drove in Ebert with a single up the middle, and he nearly scored after center fielder DJ Peters allowed the ball to roll past him. Martin ended up on third base, where he was stranded to end the inning. The Chukars led 6-5.

Ogden finished the game with six errors.

Back-and-forth they go

The Raptors responded to the turbulent first with three runs in the second, and they increased the lead to 10-6 lead in the fifth. The Chukars scored two in the bottom half and had a good chance to tie it. But they couldn’t plate runners on second and third with no outs.

The Chukars promptly tied it up in the sixth inning, but they again left something on the table. With two outs and runners on first and second, Martin singled up the middle. Manny Olloque had an easy path home, but Ebert complicated matters by trying to reach third. Peters’ throw beat Ebert to the base, and the umpire ruled that he was tagged out before Olloque touched home plate. So the score remained 10-10.

Luckily for the Chukars, the lineup stayed hot in the seventh. Luke Willis singled and reached second on an error to open the inning. Aracena bunted him over, and Viloria drove him in with a sacrifice fly to left field.

Cole Way pitched 3.1 scoreless innings out of the bullpen, and Richard Lovelady earned his fourth save with a scoreless ninth.

Player of the game

Chukars first baseman Joe Dudek

Dudek’s hot streak continued on Tuesday, when he went 3 for 5 with a double and a solo home run. Dudek is now 10 for 19 (.526) with three home runs and three doubles in his last six games.

Up next

The Chukars (35-32 overall, 13-16 second half) will try to sweep the Raptors (32-35, 15-14) at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday. Righty Alex Luna (2.62 ERA) will make his first start for I.F. since he strained his oblique on July 26 (he’s made two relief appearances in the last week).

Chukars go quietly in series finale at Grand Junction

Willis
Willis

Perhaps the Idaho Falls Chukars’ toughest second-half loss occurred Monday, when an eighth inning home run lifted the Grand Junction Rockies to a 5-4 win.

Tuesday’s loss looked more garden variety, but the Chukars squandered good chances to take the game, split the series and remain within striking distance of first place.

The Rockies earned a 5-1 win Tuesday at Sam Suplizio Field. The Chukars lost the final three games of the four-game series, and they now sit 5.5 games behind Grand Junction in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings.

Pivotal seventh

I.F.’s offense was quiet for most of Tuesday night, but it perked up in the top of seventh inning, down 3-1.

With one out, Nick Heath walked, Jordan Ebert reached on an error and MJ Sanchez was hit by a pitch. That set the table for leadoff hitter Luke Willis, who had gone 2 for 3 heading into the at-bat. He struck out looking. Manny Olloque came up next and flew out on the first pitch.

The Chukars finished 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

Drew Milligan came out for his second inning of work in the bottom of the seventh, and he notched a strikeout and a groundout to start the frame. The next four batters went walk, single, walk, single. Two runs scored, and the Rockies led 5-1.

Opportunity dropped

The Chukars couldn’t have planned a better way to open their four-game series at Grand Junction. They won 13-3 and climbed to 2.5 games behind the Rockies (3.0 behind then-first place Ogden).

A series split would have put I.F. 3.5 games behind the Rockies and two behind the Raptors (Orem won the first-half title, so it cannot win the second half title). Winning three out of four or sweeping the series would have been gravy for the Chukars.

Instead, I.F. lost the final three games in eclectic fashion. Sunday’s loss stemmed from a poor start by Igol Feliz. Monday’s was a back-and-forth back-breaker. Tuesday’s fell at the feet of the lineup.

The Chukars have 16 games left to erase a 5.5-game deficit and jump two teams in the South standings.

Player of the game

Rockies starting pitcher Ty Culbreth

The left-hander pounded the strike zone throughout his five innings of work. That cost him in some cases (seven hits, including three doubles), but he escaped his few pickles. Culbreth allowed one earned run, walked none and struck out five on 70 pitches (52 strikes).

Up next

The Chukars (30-30 overall, 8-14 second half) travel to Orem (32-28, 10-12) Wednesday for a two-game series to finish the road trip. I.F. lefty Matt Portland (6.08 ERA) faces righty Travis Herrin (6.41) at 7:05 p.m.

Chukars Notebook: Q&A with recently released Josh Banuelos

Josh Banuelos slides into third base during the bottom of the first inning of the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 2015 season opener against the Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Josh Banuelos slides into third base during the bottom of the first inning of the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 2015 season opener against the Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

Less than a year after a successful season with the Idaho Falls Chukars, the Kansas City Royals released Josh Banuelos from his minor-league contract.

Banuelos, a 28th-round pick in the 2014 MLB draft, played nine games for Single-A Lexington and 26 for Advanced Single-A Wilmington this season. Overall, he hit .194 with a .614 OPS.

Banuelos, 24, played for the Mexican League’s Tijuana Toros for about a month after his release. The first baseman returned to his hometown of Hanford, Calif., last week.

Banuelos recently discussed his release and his three-year professional career.

(Note: this Q&A has been edited for clarity and length)

Is your baseball career over?

“As of right now, I told myself I’m done with baseball. I was actually gonna go back to the college I got drafted out of [Fresno Pacific] and try to coach there, be an undergrad assistant, and have them pay for my college so I can finish my degree (in sociology, plus a minor and criminology).”

“I’m still gonna be training as if I’m gonna go back, but as of right now, something dramatic has to happen.”

Have you talked to any MLB clubs since being released?

“When I got released, I got a couple of phone calls. They said they were interested. But it came at a tough time with the draft just happening. There wasn’t a lot of space for me at the time. That’s why I want to be prepared and train if I was to play again, just in case I do get that phone call.”

You were a Pioneer League All-Star and finished the season hitting .357 last year with the Chukars. Did any part of you think you’d get released a year later?

“Heck no. When it happened, everyone was so surprised. I got so many texts from the guys: ‘Are you serious? How could they do that after the year you just put up?’ There are guys who haven’t really shown anything. I don’t want to talk bad about anyone. They’re all my friends still. But after the year I put up, how could that happen?”

Who broke the news to you about your release?

“It was Charlie Corbell, the High A pitching coach. We just got back from a road trip. We were going to start the all-star break. He pulled me into the office and was like, ‘Sorry, we’ve gotta release you.’

What else did he and the Royals tell you?

“They said that the organization is going a different way. I didn’t really get what it meant.”

“I kinda figured it was going to happen sooner or later. I wasn’t really getting a lot of chances. I got left in extended spring training again. I didn’t break with a full-season team this year. Right then and there, I knew that it wasn’t my time. Then went to Low A, and I kinda sat on the bench there. I got bumped up to High-A, and I kinda sat on the bench there, too.”

So you were expecting to get released?

“I wasn’t really expecting it, it was more of a relief off my shoulders. It was a relief because I was debating, ‘Should I ask for my release? What should I do? I don’t want to be a quitter, so I’ll stick it out.’

Did the Royals give you specific reasons for releasing you?

“(Assistant general manager J.J. Picollo) kinda explained to me in spring training why I was left off the roster. He told me, ‘It comes down to money. Other guys have a lot more money than you.’ Which I told him I understood: ‘You have a business to run. I have no regrets and no hate toward the Royals. You guys gave me an opportunity, the dream of my lifetime, to come play with you guys.’ To this day, I don’t hate them or anything. I have nothing but love for the Royals organization.”

If your career is in fact over, what will you miss the most about affiliated ball?

“Just being around the guys. You create that bond with them. For instance, (Amalani Fukofuka) and I were real close last year in Idaho. This was our third year on a team together. You create bonds with people who you care about so much. A lot of these guys are going to be at your wedding one day.”

FORMER CHUKARS HONORED

Former Chukars Cheslor Cuthbert and Danny Duffy were named the Kansas City Royals player and pitcher of the month, respectively.

For the month of July, Cuthbert hit .340 with a .862 OPS and two home runs in 102 plate appearances. The third baseman played 14 games for I.F. in 2010 at the age of 17.

Duffy pitched 34 innings in five starts last month. The left-hander had a 3.18 ERA, allowed 31 hits, walked six and struck out 31. Those numbers don’t even include Monday’s start, one of the best by any MLB pitcher this season. Duffy pitched eight scoreless innings against Tampa Bay, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out 16 Rays.

Duffy made two starts for the Chukars in 2010 as a 21-year-old.

WHO’S HOT?

2B Jordan Ebert

Ebert has been hot since he joined the Chukars in late June. Through Friday, he was batting .349 with an .842 OPS in 66 at-bats for I.F. Last Sunday, Ebert went 4 for 4 with his first home run of the season.

WHO’S NOT?

OF Rudy Martin

Martin’s batting average reached .350 and his OPS was .935 on July 21. Heading into Saturday, those figured dropped to .224 and .658. Martin had gone 4 for 39 (.103) with one extra-base hit in his eight games since July 21.

Chukars return from the all-star break with a 7-3 loss at Great Falls

Vines
Vines

The Idaho Falls Chukars took three days off for the Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star break, but they continued to struggle on the road.

Chukars starting pitcher Jace Vines had his worst start of the season, and the bats produced one hit with runners in scoring position. Those factors led to a 7-3 loss to Great Falls on Thursday night at Centene Stadium at Legion Park.

I.F. fell to 7-13 on the road this season.

Stranded

Hits weren’t the problem for I.F. on Thursday. Timing was.

The Chukars outhit the Voyagers 9-8, but they went a measly 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base. Great Falls went 4 for 16 with RISP and left six on base.

Jordan Ebert and Nick Heath both singled to lead off the third inning, putting runners on the corners for Angelo Castellano. I.F.’s second baseman grounded out to score Ebert, cutting Great Falls’ lead to 3-1. Leadoff hitter Rudy Martin struck out and Ricky Aracena grounded out to strand Heath at second.

Down 7-3 in the top of the seventh, the Chukars got two on with one out and loaded the bases with two outs. None of those runners crossed the plate.

Tangled Vines

Vines was nothing if not consistent in his previous three starts, allowing three runs and lasting five innings in each. None of the three runs he allowed last Wednesday at Missoula were earned.

Vines took a hop back Thursday.

The Voyagers hit for the cycle against Vines, who lasted 4.2 innings. The right-hander allowed seven earned runs on eight hits, four walks and four strikeouts.

Vines now has a 6.39 ERA, 24 strikeouts and 11 walks.

Viloria’s streak continues

Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria extended his hitting streak to 18 games (19 counting Tuesday’s all-star game). He went 1 for 3 with an RBI single and a walk against the Voyagers.

Viloria’s .445 batting average is No. 1 in the Pioneer League by 45 points.

Player of the game

Voyagers catcher Casey Schroeder

In addition to handling four pitchers, Schroeder went 2 for 4 with a two-run triple and an RBI double.

Up next

The Chukars (25-18, 3-2 second half) and Voyagers (23-19, 2-2) return to Centene Stadium Friday at 7 p.m. Left-hander Matt Portland (7.11 ERA) is scheduled to start for I.F.

Chukars show off their power in a 9-6 win over Grand Junction

Olloque
Olloque

No Meibrys Viloria, no problem.

The Idaho Falls Chukars compiled 15 hits and four home runs on Sunday without their best hitter, and they cruised to a 9-6win over the Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field. The win gave I.F. three wins in its first four-game series of the secondhalf.

Idaho taters

The wind blew hard out to center field Sunday, and both teams took advantage. Especially Manny Olloque.

The Chukars’ all-star third baseman hit two solo home runs, upping his season total to five. Olloque’s first homer easilycleared the center field wall in the first inning. The next batter, right fielder Yeison Melo, hit the video board in left field togive I.F. a 2-0 lead.

Rockies right fielder Vince Fernandez hit a game-tying two-run blast to center in the third inning. Tyler Bugner gave Grand Junction a 4-2 lead the following inning with a two-run inside-the-park homer. While Bugner’s four-bagger (his first of the season) didn’t clear the center field wall, the win carried it past the grasp of Nick Heath, and it bounced around the field long enough for Bugner to circle the bases.

The Chukars answered with a four-run fifth inning and a three-run sixth. Jordan Ebert hit his professional home run with one on and two out in the sixth. Two pitches later, Olloque launched an Ethan Westfall pitch over the left field wall for the second instance of back-to-back home runs on the day.

Player of the game

Chukars second baseman Jordan Ebert

Not only did Ebert hit his first big fly in 99 professional at-bats, he added three singles and finished the game 4 for 4.

Sunday’s performance increased Ebert’s batting average to .407 and his OPS to .961 in his 14th game with I.F.

Up next

The Chukars (25-17, 3-1 second half) get a four-day break due to Tuesday’s Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star Game. I.F. will play Great Falls for the first time this season. The four-game series starts Thursday at 7 p.m. in Great Falls.

Late rally can’t rescue Chukars in 14-8 loss to Grand Junction

 created on Friday 7/29/2016 at 7:41:41 pm by Victor Flores modified on Friday 7/29/2016 at 9:19:25 pm by Victor Flores Cutline 1editforJuly-30-Chukars-2.jpg Idaho Falls center fielder Nick Heath follows through on his first-inning double during Friday’s game against Grand Junction at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer )
Idaho Falls center fielder Nick Heath follows through on his first-inning double during Friday’s game against Grand Junction at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer )

Everything felt familiar for five innings Friday.

The Idaho Falls Chukars trailed Grand Junction 3-1 through five, but the 2,947 fans at Melaleuca Field had seen this movie before. Just one night earlier, the Chukars trailed by three runs through five. They ended up winning 7-6. And I.F. owns the highest-scoring offense in the Pioneer League, as well.

Sure enough, the Chukars finished Friday with eight runs. But they weren’t nearly enough.

The Rockies pounded I.F.’s pitching staff for 14 runs on 17 hits. Only a six-run ninth inning prevented a double-digit blowout.

Floodgates open

Save for a couple of solo home runs, Chukars starter Arnaldo Hernandez pitched well heading into the sixth inning. Then the right-hander ran into control issues, and I.F.’s bullpen couldn’t plug up the leak.

Hernandez walked two of the first three batters he faced in the sixth, and he was replaced by Christian Flecha. The Rockies piled up four hits against the lefty, leading to five runs and an 8-1 lead.

Enmanuel Camacho relieved Flecha in the seventh, and the hits kept flowing. Grand Junction scored four runs on four singles and a walk.

“They were finding holes,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said of Grand Junction’s hitters. “Sometimes, you make a really good pitch and it gets hit. Sometimes, you make a bad pitch and it’s an out. This is development. You’re learning. You’ve gotta know, how do you pitch when you don’t have your best stuff?”

The final two runs scored on a play that summed up I.F.’s first eight innings. With two outs, Cole Anderson hit a soft ground ball to Jordan Ebert. The ball rolled right under the legs of the Chukars’ second baseman, resulting in a 12-1 lead for the Rockies.

Baker holds I.F. in check

Rockies starter Bryan Baker entered Friday’s game with a 7.52 ERA. He had allowed at least two earned runs in his first five starts, and he was facing the Pioneer League’s best lineup.

Naturally, Baker quieted the Chukars.

Idaho Falls catcher Meibrys Viloria loads up to make a throw after a dropped third strike during Friday’s game against Grand Junction at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Idaho Falls catcher Meibrys Viloria loads up to make a throw after a dropped third strike during Friday’s game against Grand Junction at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

The right-hander allowed a run on two hits and a walk in the first inning. I.F.’s next four innings against Baker were scoreless. On the night, Baker allowed allowed five hits with five strikeouts and the lone walk.

Viloria’s streak continues 

Meibrys Viloria had another strong performance at the plate Wednesday, going 2 for 5 with an RBI double. The all-star catcher extended his hitting streak to 16 games in the process.

Viloria has gone 31 for 61 (.508) with three home runs, two triples and six doubles during the steak, which began July 7 at Ogden.

Player of the game 

Rockies right fielder Manny Melendez 

Melendez and Jonathan Piron both recorded four hits, including one extra-bagger. Piron hit a double and Melendez hit home run, which gives him the slight edge for this award.

Up next 

The Chukars (23-17, 1-1 second half) and Rockies (17-23, 1-1) return to Melaleuca Field Saturday at 7:15 p.m. Igol Feliz (6.31 ERA) will start for I.F.

Chukars start second half with 7-6 comeback win over Grand Junction

Idaho Falls' Angelo Castellano tags second base and makes the throw to first in time for a double-play during Thursday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ Angelo Castellano tags second base and makes the throw to first in time for a double-play during Thursday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars came agonizingly close to earning a Pioneer League South first-half title Wednesday. Now, they’ll have to outlast Ogden and Grand Junction for 38 more games to make it back to the playoffs.

I.F. took one step toward that prize Thursday with a 7-6 win over Grand Junction at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars erased another late three-run deficit, similar to Wednesday’s game at Missoula but in reverse of the crushing one-run loss.

Comeback trail

The Chukars went up 3-0 after the second inning, but that three-run lead slowly turned into a three-run deficit. After three strong innings, I.F. starting pitcher Matt Portland struggled to find the strike zone. He threw 37 balls against 40 strikes, walked five batters and allowed five earned runs in 3.2 innings pitched.

But the Chukars don’t stay silent with the bats at home games. In their first 19 contests at Melaleuca Field, their lowest offensive output was four runs. They scored fewer than six runs in only four home games, as well. The Chukars kept that category stagnant again Thursday.

I.F. hit three singles and drew a walk in the sixth inning, but the Rockies did just as much to blow the lead. First baseman Hunter Melton made a throwing error, and pitcher Lorenz Ozuna threw two wild pitches that each led to runs. The second tied the game.

Another error placed Chukars on first and second with no outs in the bottom of the eighth. Jordan Ebert took advantage, driving in Luke Willis with a single to put I.F. up 7-6.

Grand Junction got a runner to third in the top of the ninth against Nick Andros, but the left-hander got a flyout to centerfield to end it.

One-run discrepancy

In the first half, the Chukars went a measly 5-11 in games decided by one run. But the bulk of that losing came on the road. They went 1-9 in one-run games away from Melaleuca Field.

It’s hard to chalk up those struggles to anything but bad luck, mostly because one-run game performance is so random (at least for MLB teams). The Chukars also improved to 5-2 in one-run games at home following Thursday’s win. Their overall home record is now 16-4.

Roster moves

The Chukars added a pair of first-year players on Wednesday left-handed pitcher Richard Lovelady and infielder Joe Dudek.

Lovelady was drafted in the 10th round of June’s MLB draft out of Kennesaw State University. He pitched 10.1 relief innings for the Arizona League Royals earlier this summer, posting a 1.74 ERA with 14 strikeouts and two walks.

Dudek was an undrafted free agent out of the University of North Carolina. He transferred to the University of Kentucky prior to the 2016 season but did not play for the Wildcats because of NCAA transfer rules.

Up next

The Chukars (23-16, 1-0 second half) and Rockies (16-23, 0-1) return to Melaleuca Field on Friday at 7:15 p.m. Arnaldo Hernandez (6.09 ERA) will get the start for I.F.

Osprey dash Chukars’ division title hopes with walkoff home run

Bayliss
Bayliss

The first half of the Pioneer League season couldn’t have ended more dramatically. Or with more heartbreak for the Idaho Falls Chukars.

The Chukars rallied in the ninth inning to force a tie with the Missoula Osprey and restore life into their first-half title chances. But before the buzz from the three-run top half of the ninth wore off, Missoula walked off with a 5-4 win Wednesday at Ogren Park Allegiance Field.

I.F.’s loss handed Orem its third straight Pioneer League South Division first-half title.

Wild ninth

The Chukars were the Pioneer League’s best scoring team in the first half, and it wasn’t particularly close. They scored 303 runs (7.97 per game) over their first 38 contests, good for 42 more than Orem, the league’s second most prolific team.

But I.F.’s dynamic offense was nowhere to be found for most of its final two games against Missoula. The Chukars lost to the Osprey 2-1 in 10 innings on Tuesday and trailed 4-1 heading into the ninth on Wednesday.

With a title on the line, the offense woke up.

Orem and I.F. both had 22-15 records heading into Wednesday. Since the Owlz owned the tiebreaker, the Chukars had to beat Missoula, and Billings had to beat Orem in order for I.F. to claim the first-half title.

The Orem-Billings game ended as the Chukars were batting in the ninth. The Owlz lost 7-5.

Almost on queue, the Chukars began to rally. Yeison Melo walked and Meibrys Viloria singled to lead off the inning. With one out, Jordan Ebert singled home Melo.

4-2.

Viloria scored a batter later on a fielder’s choice groundout by Nick Heath. If not for Heath’s speed, the Osprey would have turned a double play and the game would have ended.

4-3.

Angelo Castellano came up next and crushed an Erbert Gonzalez pitch to center field. The ball was feet away from clearing the fence, according to Chukars broadcaster Andrew Haynes, but I.F. wasn’t complaining. Heath came all the way around from first to score.

4-4.

Rudy Martin grounded out on a close play, according to Haynes, to end the inning.

Gonzalez had allowed three earned runs in his previous 14 innings pitched (1.93 ERA). The Chukars saddled him with three earned runs in the ninth, alone.

All-Star reliever Brian Bayliss returned for his second inning of work in the bottom of the ninth. He struck out Billy Endris to bring up Jacy Cave with one out and nobody one. In a 1-0 count, Cave drove a Bayliss pitch toward left-center field. It cleared the wall, giving Missoula its second straight walkoff win.

The Chukars have not won a first-half South Division title since 2007.

Player of the game

Missoula right fielder Jacy Cave

Cave did more than launch the game’s biggest hit. He also hit a triple and went 4 for 5 on the night.

Up next

The Chukars (22-16) begin the second half at Melaleuca Field Thursday at 7:15 p.m. against the Grand Junction Rockies (16-22). Lefty Matt Portland (6.43 ERA) will get the start for I.F. against righty Mike Nikorak (2.89).