Three times Monday night, the Blue Wahoos grabbed a lead against the Biloxi Shuckers.
Each time, it wasn't enough.
In what became their most difficult loss in this series, the Blue Wahoos' bullpen was unable to maintain an edge, as Biloxi answered with eight runs in the middle innings for a 9-7 win before a crowd of 1,927 at MGM Park in Biloxi, Miss.
Their fourth consecutive loss dropped the Blue Wahoos (36-28) three games behind the first-place Shuckers (39-25) entering the final week of the Southern League South Division first half schedule. The teams conclude their pivotal five-game series Tuesday with a morning game at 10:35 a.m.
The Blue Wahoos then return to Pensacola for a five-game homestand, which begins Wednesday at Blue Wahoos Stadium against the Tennessee Smokies, while the Shuckers travel to Jackson, Tenn. for a series against the Jackson Generals.
But it's now going to take a complete reversal of fortune for Pensacola's hopes to win the first half race. They will either be two games back or trail by four games, depending on what happens Tuesday. Biloxi is 21-5 since mid-May.
Biloxi's win Monday sealed a head-to-head tiebreaker edge should the teams finish with identical records. The Shuckers now lead the first half season series 8-6 with one game left between the teams. They took advantage of three Blue Wahoos errors and six walks, along with 12 hits Monday to increase their division lead.
Things started well Monday for the Blue Wahoos.
They were bolstered by the return of pitcher Griffin Jax, the Air Force Academy graduate, who was part of early season, starting rotation. Jax started his first game since May 16, prior to going on the injured list. He worked 2.2 innings, allowed two hits one run and had two strikeouts.
When he exited in the third inning, the Blue Wahoos had a 2-1 lead. The game started with the Blue Wahoos' Jaylin Davis blasting a leadoff home run in the first. In the second inning, catcher Brian Navaretto hit a two-out double, scoring Caleb Hamilton, who had reached on a fielder's choice play.
The Blue Wahoos went up 3-1 in the fourth inning when Navaretto drove in Randy Cesar on a one-out sacrifice fly. Cesar, who reached on a walk and moved to third on consecutive singles, was playing his first game for the Blue Wahoos since being summoned from Triple-A Rochester.
The Shuckers took the lead with a three-run fifth inning. Trent Grisham homered against Ames to lead off the inning. Jake Greenwood reached on a throwing error and Patrick Leonard singled. Weston Wilson hit an RBI single for the second run and the Blue Wahoos summoned Hackimer to replace Ames.
Hackimer gave up a pair of two-out walks to force in a third run.
In the sixth inning, the Blue Wahoos retook the lead on a two-out single by Michael Davis to score Jimmy Kerrigan and Cesar, both of whom reached without a hit. Kerrigan was hit by a pitch and Cesar walked.
The Shuckers answered with three more runs in the bottom of the inning when Grisham again homered to lead it off, then Dillon Thomas later had an RBI triple and Wilson hit a sacrifice fly to score Thomas.
Trailing 7-5, the Blue Wahoos tied the game when Travis Blakenhorn hit a two-run homer, scoring Davis who led off with a double. It was Blankenhorn's 11 homer this season.
The Shuckers, however, came right back again, this time loading the bases against Clay with a pair of singles and intentional walk. Jake Gatewood's two-run single proved decisive.
The Shuckers sealed the game with their top two closers.
Aaron Kurcz retired the Blue Wahoos in the eighth for his fifth hold. Southern League all-star reliever Nate Griep needed just 11 pitches to end the game in the ninth and rack up his 14th save.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.