OGDEN — The Ogden Raptors tried to add one last memory to a season full of milestones Sunday evening, facing the Idaho Falls Chukars in a decisive Game 3 of the Pioneer League Championship Series at Lindquist Field.
There was not quite enough magic left.
After all but erasing a 7-0 deficit, the Raptors sent pinch hitter Imanol Vargas to the plate with one out in the bottom of the ninth, trailing 10-8.
Vargas engaged in quite a battle with Idaho Falls reliever Jonah Dipoto. He ripped a would-be double a couple inches foul, nearly struck out on a close, 2-2 backdoor curve called a ball, then did rip a double down the right-field line that appeared to land right on the painted grass. Ogden seemed to be in business one more time.
But Andrew Shaps grounded out and Dipoto went to his nasty curve ball one last time to strike out Wladimir Chalo, sending the Chukars pouring out of the dugout and onto the field to celebrate their league championship.
It was a bitter end to what was otherwise the best season in Raptors history and one of the best seasons in the history of the Pioneer League. Ogden went 31-7 in the first half and 54-22 overall, both franchise records and each tying league records.
The Raptors became the third team in league history to reach 54 wins since the Pioneer League became a rookie league in 1964.
“I just let guys know that when you win a championship, you get a ring and, ultimately, that ring is a memory of the season,” Raptors manager Austin Chubb said. “But for this team, 31 wins in the first half tied a league record, 54 total tied another record, those are the memories — and then it comes down to one game and you don’t finish. I’m hurting for them because it’s the most competitive group I’ve ever been around.
“I’m proud to be their manager and proud of what they accomplished this year. But it hurts.”
Things were rough early for the Raptors. After two strong innings, starter Elio Serrano ran into trouble and couldn’t record an out in the third. Idaho Falls started putting dents in walls and fences, hitting three doubles off the outfield wall on the fly to take a 3-0 lead.
That early rally included the first of four Ogden errors in the game when Zac Ching dropped a pickoff throw to second base.
The Chukars appeared to bury the Raptors for good in the fifth. Tyler Tolbert led off with a double and Jose Marquez followed with a bunt. Reza Aleaziz fielded it off the mound for Ogden and turned to third base, where he had Tolbert dead to rights.
Aleaziz’s throw sailed into left field. Tolbert scored.
Travis Jones later hit IF’s fifth ball off the wall, doubling in Marquez. Jimmy Govern drove in two more with a double down the left field line and the Chukars led 7-0 after the top of the fifth.
The Raptors looked buried because pitcher Alec Marsh, a first-round draft pick, made Ogden’s offense toothless through four innings.
But cracks began to show in the bottom of the fifth. Jeremy Arocho and Andy Pages fought to consecutive walks to lead off the frame, then Marsh battled with Sauryn Lao to an eventual strikeout. That ramped Marsh’s pitch count near its limit at 71 pitches as Ching stepped into the box, likely Marsh’s last batter of the game.
Ching made sure it was Marsh’s last batter with one swing. The shortstop lifted an opposite-field home run to right field, making it 7-3.
After a pitching change, Marco Hernandez and Jimmy Titus each fought off tough pitches for bloop singles into the outfield. Then, with two outs, Andrew Shaps lofted a deep fly to the wall in right-center. Juan Carlos Negret reached the fence and jumped, but couldn’t come down with the ball.
Hernandez and Titus scored and, suddenly, the 7-0 deficit was a 7-5 ballgame.
Idaho Falls came right back in the sixth. Tolbert doubled again — to this point, the Chukars had 11 hits and a whopping eight were doubles — and a Hernandez error at first and a sacrifice fly scored two more runs for the visitors, making it 9-5.
Ogden punched back in the bottom of the sixth. With nobody on and two outs, Lao singled hard off the wall in left. Ching and Hernandez then each fought from down in the count to draw full-count walks.
Titus stepped in with the bases loaded and, on yet another full count, lined a single up the middle past a diving Marquez.
The single scored Lao and Ching. Hernandez wheeled toward third base as Tolbert muffed the pickup in center field, and Tolbert’s resulting throw to third was wide. Hernandez hustled home, dove head first and just beat the throw from foul territory as teammates jumped out of the dugout in jubilation.
It was a 9-8 game.
That’s as close as it got. Isaiah Henry blasted a moonshot for a solo homer in the top of the seventh for the 10-8 score, and Dipoto pitched two nearly flawless innings to close it and earn the save.
Idaho Falls celebrated near the mound, then near home plate with the trophy presentation, then in left field with champagne (or sparkling cider) right outside Ogden’s clubhouse, which sat eerily silent — except for overheard cheers from beyond the wall — for many minutes as players decompressed the 81-game marathon that just came to a close.
“Heck of a game,” Chubb said. “Ultimately, we just didn’t take care of the ball on the defensive side. Hats off to (Idaho Falls) because those guys came out swinging the last two nights and put together really good at-bats.
“Looking back at it now, if we make some of those plays, plays we’ve made all year, we probably end up winning the game. But I’m really proud — at 7-0, the feeling in the dugout, it never felt like we were out of the game.”
Tolbert led all hitters with three hits for Idaho Falls. Seven Chukars drove in runs; only Govern with two had multiple RBIs.
Hernandez, Titus and Shaps each totaled two hits for Ogden. Ching’s three-run homer led the RBI count, while Titus and Shaps each had two.
“It’s a great experience for our guys to be in a game like this,” Chubb said. “Ultimately, it’s about developing world championship-caliber players who can get to (Los Angeles) and help us finish there. So guys being able to play in a game like this is great — to be able to control emotions, all that. So the next time they’re in a game like that, they’ll be ready for it.”