MISSOULA — Anemic hitting and weak pitching doomed Missoula's bid for a Pioneer League North first-half title Wednesday.
Tasked with solving a 6-foot-8 fireballer who consistently threw in the mid-90s for Idaho Falls, the Osprey failed to score in the first four frames. The Chukars built a sizeable lead and made it stick in claiming their first Pioneer championship in four years with a 15-2 win at Ogren-Allegiance Park.
Coupled with Tuesday's extra-inning loss, which saw the O's fail to score in the last five regular innings before plating a run after starting a baserunner on second in the 10th, the O's labored through a stretch of nine regular innings without scoring. That stretch essentially killed the team's hopes of a league crown.
Idaho Falls jumped on Missoula starting pitcher Bobby Ay in the first frame. Michael Emodi ripped a two-out RBI double. Juan Carlos Negret followed with a two-run home run to center field.
Missoula looked as if it might answer in the bottom half against hard-throwing righty Stephen Ridings, a New Yorker who was picked in the 8th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs.
Axel Andueza lined a one-out single and Tristen Carranza followed with a walk. But unlike the Chukars, Missoula's No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, Spencer Brickhouse and Liover Peguero, both struck out looking.
Idaho Falls added a run in the fourth off reliever Dustin Lacaze, but it could have been worse. Emodi and Negret singled and Isaiah Henry walked to load the bases with no outs. Emodi scored on a sacrifice fly, but Lacaze minimized the damage by striking out two hitters.
The Chukars turned the game into a rout in the fifth. Jose Marquez and Clay Dungan singled to start a rally. Then after it looked like Lacaze might get out of the jam when his catcher, Andueza, tracked down a wild pitch and tagged Marquez at home for the second out, disaster struck.
Emodi drew a walk and Negret followed with a three-run home run to center field. That boosted the Chukars' lead to 7-0.
Missoula finally scored off Ridings in the fifth. Designated hitter Francis Martinez smacked a solo home run to right field. Ridings regrouped and finished the inning strong.
Idaho Falls (20-15) added two insurance runs in the sixth off Lacaze. Ismaldo Rodriguez singled and scored on Tyler James' first home run of the season.
Missoula cut the deficit to 9-2 with a run off Ridings in the sixth. Andueza singled, moved up on a Carranza double and scored on sacrifice fly.
The visitors answered with three more runs in the seventh off Osprey hurler Mitchell Stumpo. Rodriguez ripped a three-run home run with two outs, making the score 12-2.
Idaho Falls added three more runs off Osprey reliever Chris Williams in the ninth. Williams allowed a total of four hits in the frame.
The winning performance by Ridings, who played for the Class A short-season Eugene Emeralds last season, was arguably his most impressive in an Idaho Falls uniform with nine strikeouts. Prior to Wednesday, he sported a 2-3 record and a 10.13 earned run average.
Idaho Falls finished with a 19-8 edge in hits. Andueza was the only Osprey with multiple hits (2). Negret piled up a game-high four hits and was one of seven Idaho Falls players with multiple hits.
Missoula (19-18) will conclude the first half of its season 7:05 p.m. Thursday with a home game against rival Billings.