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09/11/2006 4:27 PM ET
Pioneer League Championship Preview
Idaho Falls Chukars vs. Missoula Osprey
Missoula's John Hester batted .500 and hit a grand slam to lead the Osprey beat in the first round. (Missoula Osprey)


Idaho Falls Chukars vs. Missoula Osprey


The Chukars and Osprey were a fairly even match, with Missoula taking the season series, 4-3. Missoula outscored Idaho Falls, 39-37. The Osprey took two out of three in mid-August, then split a four-game series at the end of the month.


Idaho Falls
The Chukars hit .266 in the seven games against the Osprey ... Marc Maddux hit .375 with a homer and five RBIs in six games ... Chris McConnell hit .348 with three steals and four RBIs. Idaho Falls went 11-for-14 in stolen-base attempts against Missoula.

Idaho Falls didn't pitch all that well in the series, posting a 5.61 ERA ... Tyler Chambliss stood out, going 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA in two starts ... Reliever Juan Abreu won a game, striking out 10 over 7 2/3 innings in three outings for a 2.35 ERA ... Game 1 starter Rowdy Hardy went 0-1 with a 9.45 ERA in two starts ... Game 2 starter Blake Wood had a 5.40 ERA in two starts spanning 10 innings.

Missoula hit .281 in the series, led by Shea McFeely and Daniel Perales, who each hit .360. Perales also homered twice and drove in seven runs ... Gerardo Parra hit .364 and stole five bases in six games ... Andrew Fie hit .346 with two homers and a team-leading eight RBIs.

The Osprey's ERA in the seven games was 4.76 but it was enough to win the season series ... Game 1 starter Tony Barnette went 0-1 but had a 3.18 ERA in two starts ... Jordan Norberto didn't give up an earned run in two starts. Over 13 innings, he struck out 11 ... Luis Caro went 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA in two starts ... Hector Ambriz appeared in just one game, but earned a three-inning save by allowing just two hits (no runs) and striking out seven.


Game 1: Idaho Falls at Missoula
Rowdy Hardy (5-3, 2.80 ERA) vs. Tony Barnette (6-4, 3.89 ERA)

Game 2: Missoula at Idaho Falls
Osbek Castillo (6-0, 1.04 ERA) vs. Blake Wood (3-1, 4.50 ERA)

Game 3: Missoula at Idaho Falls, if necessary
Jordan Norberto (3-2, 3.09 ERA) vs. TBD

Idaho Falls
The Chukars' 4.62 ERA placed them sixth among eight teams in the league during the regular season ... They had a 2.00 ERA in their two-game sweep in the opening round of the season ... Game 1 starter Rowdy Hardy, a league All-Star, finished fourth in the league ERA race at 2.80, and he didn't pitch in the first-round series ... Wood, going in Game 2, went 4 2/3 innings in his playoff start, allowing an earned run on four hits (1.93 ERA) ... Reliever Brent Fisher won the game Wood started, going 4 1/3 innings without allowing a hit while striking out eight against no walks.

The Osprey finished third in the league with a 3.98 regular-season ERA ... In their first-round sweep, they had a 3.00 ERA (6 ER in 18 IP) ... Barnette, the Game 1 starter, went 6-4 with a 3.98 ERA, striking out nearly a batter an inning ... Castillo's 1.04 ERA didn't quialify for the league lead because of a lack of innings, but the Game 2 starter struck out 72 in 52 innings during the year. He gave up three runs in 4 2/3 innings agaisnt Billings in the first round, but he also struck out eight ... Norberto, who'll pitch Game 3, helped send Missoula into the finals by yielding just one run and wiffing four in four innings. Ambriz followed him up by striking out five and allowing a run in four innings to get the victory.


Idaho Falls
The Chukars' .273 team batting average was second-best in the league and they were third in OPS at .748, thanks to a .362 OBP (2nd in the league). They hit .275 in the first round and as was the case during the regular season (they led the league in steals), speed was a factor. Idaho Falls went 4-for-5 in attempts in the series against Orem ... Brett Bigler went 6-for-7 in the first round and stole a base (after swiping 20 during the year) ... O.D. Gonzalez went 3-for-6 with a steal, while Kurt Mertins hit .375 with two steals ... Jase Turner supplied the power, hitting .333 with a pair of homers and five RBIs ... Brennan Herrara went just 1-for-9, but the one was a grand slam that helped put away Orem in Game 2.

Like he did all season, Gerardo Parra led the Osprey offense, going 4-for-8 with a steal and four runs scored ... John Hester also went 4-for-8 with a grand slam that won Game 1 against Billings ... Daniel Perales went 3-for-6 with five RBIs in the two games, hitting a two-run homer in Game 1 and a two-run single in Game 2. Missoula hit .310 in the sweep.


Missoula defeated Billings in a two-game sweep for the Pioneer League championship in 1999, the team's first year back in the league (It was part of the Pioneer League from 1956-60). Missoula's Lyle Overbay was the MVP of the league that season ... Prior to this year, Missoula hadn't been in the playoffs since 2001 ... Idaho Falls last won a title in 2000, as a Padres' affiliate. The Chukars made the playoffs in 2004 but lost to the eventual champions, the Provo Angels ... Idaho Falls first joined the Pioneer League back in 1940, then as the Russets, and have been a part of the league from 1946 forward.


Whoever scores the most runs. Before you click away after reading that ridiculous statement, understand the context. Both teams hit very well in the first round, with Missoula scoring eight runs per game in its sweep and Idaho Falls scoring 7.5 per contest in its two games. Both teams also pitched fairly well, so it may come down to which pitching staff keeps which hot offense at bay the best. Idaho Falls, with all that speed, does have the ability to manufacture runs.


With this series, pitching depth could come into play. Missoula gets to throw out three good pitchers, with some outstanding piggy-back relievers to go along with them. That takes nothing away from Idaho Falls' staff, but after Hardy in Game 1, there's less to feel confident about. This one could go the distance, and the way Norberto pitched last round, coupled with his success against Idaho Falls, puts things in the Osprey's favor. Missoula in three

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.