Bulls fade as Norfolk Tides ride wave to IL title

NORFOLK, Va. – The Durham Bulls didn’t hit the jackpot or much of anything else Thursday night.

So that became a disappointing end of another sterling season of International League baseball for the storied franchise.

The Norfolk Tides topped the Bulls 7-0 in the decisive Game 3 of the league championship series at Harbor Park.

“Here’s the thing, the expectations are so high here in Durham and that’s the way it should be,” first-year manager Michael Johns said. “The biggest takeaway is that I thought guys got better. We got a lot of guys (moved up) to the major leagues.”

For the Bulls, there’s no return trip to Las Vegas for the Triple-A national championship game Saturday night.

And they didn’t become the first team to win three straight IL titles since the Columbus Clippers from 1979-81. The Bulls have been frequent league champions, winning eight times since 2002.

They couldn’t add a ninth, much to the delight of most of the crowd of 6,469. The Tides captured a playoff series for the first time since 1995 and a league championship for the first time since 1985.

It was a strange ending for Bulls infielder Tristan Gray, who was a core member of three straight Durham teams.

“Anytime you make the playoffs (it’s special),” Gray said. “I’ve talked to a lot of guys and they’ve never got to celebrate at all.”

This time, it was a quiet conclusion for the Bulls. This after an 88-62 regular-season record and a victory in Tuesday night’s Game 1.

“A lot good happened,” said center fielder Kameron Misner, who spent the entire season with Durham. “We had a pretty good season and we bonded well. The Triple-A level, there’s a lot of moving parts.”

The Bulls had at least one runner on base in every inning in Game 3. Four Norfolk pitchers combined on a three-hitter.

“We would hit some balls at people, some of them that didn’t get down,” Gray said. “Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. There was never a doubt even when it looked grim. I always thought we had a chance to get back into it.”

The early innings were played in an increasingly heavy mist … that probably felt like a downpour to the Bulls.

The scoring began on Coby Mayo’s one-out, two-run ground-rule double in the first inning off Bulls starter Jalen Beeks. Mayo later scored on Joey Ortiz’s fielder’s choice grounder, beating third baseman Vidal Brujan’s throw to the plate.

The Tides loaded the bases with no outs in the third off Michael Mercado, and they were limited to one run after Javy Guerra came in to douse the threat.

“We’d come back so many times and we had proven we could do it,” Johns said.

But Tides starter Cade Povich blanked the Bulls on three hits and three walks for four innings. Ortiz, the second baseman, robbed Brujan of a would-be two-out RBI single to end the top of the seventh.

Jackson Holliday, a 19-year-old who was the overall first draft pick in the 2022 draft by the Baltimore Orioles, added a solo homer in the ninth off Trevor Kelley. Then with two outs, Mayo cranked a two-run shot.