LAWRENCEVILLE, GA – A pair of big innings by each side were the difference on Friday night as the Gwinnett Braves (56-70) and Charlotte Knights (56-71) split a doubleheader at Coolray Field. Gwinnett won game one 7-5 and Charlotte took game two by a 5-1 score.
After Friday’s games, Gwinnett remains in first place in the International League South Division, a half-game ahead of the Knights.
In the first game, Charlotte jumped on G-Braves’ starter Matt Wisler in the first inning. Leury Garcia and Jake Peter singled before Kevan Smith blasted a three-run home run to deep left-center, putting the Knights up 3-0 in a blink.
But Wisler settled down after that, holding the Knights to just three hits over the next five innings as his teammates got him off the hook. Gwinnett immediately answered Charlotte’s outburst with an even greater rally of its own in the bottom of the first.
The G-Braves batted around against Carson Fulmer (L, 0-1), collecting six runs on five hits. Brandon Snyder picked up an RBI single and Rio Ruiz laced a hard grounder off Fulmer’s leg to push across a second G-Braves’ run.
Three batters later, Blake Lalli dumped a two-run double down the left-field line, putting Gwinnett in front. With two outs, Braeden Schlehuber laced a two-run double down the left-field line to cap the frame.
As Wisler (W, 2-1) was shutting down the Knights, the game remained a 6-3 score until the bottom of the sixth when Emilio Bonifacio laid down a squeeze bunt to score Schlehuber from third.
In the seventh, Gwinnett nearly coughed up the lead, committing three errors to let Charlotte back into it. With two outs, Adam Engel singled and Eddy Alvarez reached on a fielding error by Lalli at first. Garcia followed with an RBI single to right that Kyle Kubitza bobbled, allowing Alvarez to race around from first and cut the lead to 7-5.
Peter hit a hard grounder to shortstop that Daniel Castro couldn’t corral for an error, putting runners at the corners with two out. But Wisler got Smith to bounce into a force out to end it.
Wisler recorded his second career complete game, allowing five runs (three earned) on eight hits over 7.0 innings while striking out four and walking none. He threw 67 of his 99 pitches for strikes. Bonifacio, Lalli, Schlehuber and Snyder each had two hits for the G-Braves, who had 11 in the game. Schlehuber’s two doubles matched his total over his first 28 games this season.
Garcia had three of Charlotte’s eight hits in the game and relievers Blake Smith and Matt Purke held Gwinnett to just one run on six hits over the final six innings, totaling seven strikeouts.
In the nightcap, Charlotte batted around against Aaron Blair (L, 4-4) in the second inning and went ahead for good on a grand slam by Engel. Blair walked Slade Heathcott and allowed singles to Vinny Rottino and Tony Campana before Engel scraped the brick wall beyond the left-field fence for his first Triple-A homer.
That was more than enough for lefty David Holmberg (W, 1-2) as he carved up the G-Braves for a complete-game win. He held Gwinnett hitless through the first four innings and yielded only one run on two hits in the game.
Mel Rojas Jr. led off the fifth with a triple down the right-field line and scored on a sacrifice fly by Lalli two batters later. Emerson Landoni doubled for Gwinnett’s other hit in the game.
Blair exited after the second inning and finished his night with five runs allowed on seven hits and two walks, having thrown 32 of his 60 pitches for strikes.
Garcia was 2-for-4 to finish the twin-bill 5-for-8 and Campana and Rottino each had two hits for Charlotte.
The G-Braves begin a three-game series against the Rochester Red Wings at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday night at Coolray Field. Gwinnett’s starter has yet to be officially announced, while the Red Wings will start left-hander Adalberto Mejia (1-2, 4.66). Tony Schiavone will have the play-by-play call on 97.7 FM at 6:35 p.m.
The first 2,500 fans through the gates Saturday will receive a bobblehead of G-Braves’ mascot Chopper, presented by Georgia Power. It’s also MiLB CommUNITY Day, as fans will be asked to rise together during an inning break to take a moment and reflect on ways to make a difference in communities and help others. Tickets for Saturday’s game are on sale now at the Coolray Field Ticket Office, call 678-277-0340 or visit GwinnettBraves.com/tickets to purchase.