LAWRENCEVILLE — The Gwinnett Braves had a golden opportunity to clinch their first-ever International League South Division title Saturday night.
With a win against the Durham Bulls and a single loss from the Charlotte Knights’ double-header vs the Norfolk Tides, the G-Braves would clinch.
But after losing 7-3 to the Bulls and the Knights winning both of their games, the G-Braves will have to wait another day to try and reel in their division title with a slim half-game lead over Charlotte.
The G-Braves’ offensive struggles continued after being outscored 21-4 in their three-game series with the Bulls. The G-Braves finished the night with a dismal 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Durham did the majority of their damage in the second inning after G-Braves starting pitcher Chris Ellis allowed five runs to cross the plate on six base hits.
Ellis worked five innings of five-run, seven-hit ball, two walks and struck out four on 91 pitches.
Emilio Bonifacio finished his night at the plate with a 2-for-5 performance and scored a run.
Scott Kazmar Jr. went 1-for-4 from the plate and drove in two runs on a bases-clearing double in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Ellis set the Bulls down in order in the first inning including back-to-back strikeouts, but the G-Braves weren’t able to push a run across in the bottom half.
Bonifacio and Reid Brignac led off the inning with back-to-back singles. But with runners on the corners with one out, Mel Rojas Jr. grounded into an inning-ending double play to silence the threat.
The missed opportunity to take a first-inning lead cost the G-Braves in the second after Ellis allowed six hits, five of which scored to put the Bulls up 5-0 heading into the bottom half of the second.
The G-Braves got an opportunity to cut into the Bulls’ lead in the bottom of the third after Blake Lalli and Daniel Castro led off with back-to-back singles. But much like the result of the first inning, the G-Braves’ inning ended with Lalli and Castro stranded at second and third after three consecutive outs.
Ellis settled down from that point on and pitched three scoreless innings, but the G-Braves’ bats remained silent. Rio Ruiz reached base on a free pass in the bottom of the fourth, but a pop out from Matt Lipkia ended the inning.
Castro singled with one out in the bottom of the fifth, but back-to-back strikeouts from Bonifacio and Brignac ended that inning as well.
After a 1-2-3 bottom half of the sixth for the G-Braves, Durham added two more runs in the top of the seventh to increase their lead to 7-0. One on a single to right and the second on a sacrifice fly to deep center.
The G-Braves finally got on the board in the bottom of the eighth after Bonifacio scored from third on a wild pitch.
And with runners now standing at second and third, Kazmar Jr. drove them home on a bases clearing double down the first base line to cut the Durham lead to 7-3.
But the scoring ended there after Ruiz struck out and Lipka popped out to the Durham shortstop to end the eighth inning.
After getting Durham in order in the top of the ninth inning, the G-Braves went down quietly in the bottom of the ninth to close out the game.