LAWRENCEVILLE - The real key for the Gwinnett Braves as they try to win the International League South title in their first season really isn't how they do the rest of the season against the teams chasing them in the playoff race.
Instead, it is how the G-Braves do against the last-place team in the division.
Of Gwinnett's 16 remaining games, nine are against Charlotte and the Knights have hardly been a pushover for the G-Braves this season.
Gwinnett had a losing record against Charlotte before evening the season series at 6-6 with a 3-2 victory Saturday night before a crowd of 10,046 at Gwinnett Stadium.
Alvin Colina hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning and the G-Braves bullpen preserved the victory for Jo-Jo Reyes (3-1) with four scoreless innings.
Vladimir Nunez worked out of an inherited jam in the seventh inning and struck out the final four batters he faced before turning the game over to closer Luis Valdez.
Keith Ginter doubled with two outs in the ninth inning, but Valdez got Josh Kroeger to hit a pop foul to third baseman Van Pope for his league-leading 25th save. Kroeger and been 3-for-3 with a walk before his final at-bat.
The G-Braves are 26-16 in one-run games, a big reason that they are in first place.
Gwinnett's magic number for clinching the division title is 15. Second-place Durham also won Saturday, but trails the G-Braves by three games.
Gwinnett is 9-9 against second-place Durham and 10-8 against third-place Norfolk. The G-Braves play four more games against the Bulls and three against the Tides. All are on the road.
The only team the G-Braves have a losing record against is Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They are 3-5 against the first-place team in the IL North.
Reyes worked five innings, his 86th and final pitch inducing a double play that preserved the lead. The left-hander allowed seven hits, walked two and struck out two in breaking a streak of three no-decisions.
The G-Braves scored in the first inning, but Charlotte tied it in the third. That didn't last long, however.
Colina connected for a towering home run to left field off Wes Whisler (9-11) with Brandon Jones on base after a leadoff double in the fourth inning to put the G-Braves ahead for good. It was the catcher's sixth homer of the season.
Charlotte got a run back in the fifth inning, but Reyes was able to limit the damage right there thanks to the double play.
Brooks Conrad was 2-for-3 with a walk for the G-Braves, who were out-hit 9-6.
Tim Hudson will make his fourth rehab start for Gwinnett in today's 2 p.m. game against the Knights. The teams play a doubleheader on Monday, then move to Charlotte for three games beginning Wednesday. The G-Braves play three more games with the Knights at home on Labor Day weekend to end the regular season.
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G-Braves 3, Knights 2
What happened: C Alvin Colina hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to break a tie as first-place Gwinnett (74-54) beat Charlotte (59-68) on Saturday night to maintain its three-game lead over Durham in the International League South.
Pivotal moment: RHP Vladimir Nunez came in with one out and two on in the seventh inning, and got a fly ball and strike out to preserve the lead.
Counting the house: With a draw of 10,046, the G-Braves had their sixth home crowd of more than 10,000. They are 2-4 in those games.
Injury report: INF Wes Timmons sat out his third straight game after banging up his injured left thumb again in a play at first base on Wednesday at Charlotte. The G-Braves were also without SS Diory Hernandez, who sat out because of a sore shoulder.
Schedule quirk: Saturday was the first of seven consecutive games between the G-Braves and Knights. The teams play four games in Gwinnett, with a doubleheader on Monday, and then three in Charlotte after a day off on Tuesday.
Local ties: C Tyler Flowers, acquired by the White Sox from the Braves in the deal for Javier Vazquez last winter, had a large rooting section. The Blessed Trinity grad was promoted to Charlotte after playing in both the All-Star Futures Game and the Southern League All-Star Game.
For the troops: A dozen large boxes were filled by fans entering the stadium as part of a supply drive for troops.
On deck: RHP Tim Hudson (0-0, 2.84 ERA) will make his fourth rehab start for the Braves today at 2 p.m., facing RHP Carlos Torres (10-4, 2.36). Hudson, coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery, is scheduled to work six innings. Torres is second in the league in ERA among qualified pitchers and third in strikeouts with 119. The late Harry "The Hat" Walker will be inducted into the International League Hall of Fame before the game.