Dayton Dragons center fielder Mariel Bautista tries to elude a tag from Great Lakes Loons first baseman Dillon Paulson after getting caught in a rundown during the first inning of their game on Friday night at Fifth Third Field. The Dragons lost 7-5. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

Dragons squander four-run lead, fall to Great Lakes 7-5

Through 21 games this season, the Dayton Dragons’ Achilles’ heel has been the close ones.

Dayton has struggled in tight games this season, falling to 2-6 in games decided by two or less runs this season — including Friday.

The Dragons jumped out to a 5-1 lead early in the game, but the Loons scored six unanswered runs to beat Dayton 7-5 in front of 7,381 fans on Friday night at Fifth Third Field.

“That’s something where we have to get better,” said Dragons manager Luis Bolivar. “You have to try and learn from them. Those are the games you want to play. It’s something we have to work at and get better at. Tonight was one of those nights. We have to keep working and get better.”

Mariel Bautista and Jay Schuyler each had two hits for the Dragons, which fell to 8-13 overall. It was the second game this season the Dragons have lost a game in which they led by four runs.

Great Lakes took a 1-0 lead on a home run by Dillon Paulson in the second inning.

In the bottom half of the inning, the Dragons scored five runs to grab a 5-1 lead. Dayton had four hits in the inning, including a double from Jonathan Willems.

The Dragons would get just one hit the rest of the way. Loons starter Stephen Kolek worked three scoreless innings and relievers Brett de Geus, Nathan Witt and Jasiel Alvino combined to strike out five batters on just one hit and two walks.

“(Kolek) really settled down and started mixing more pitches,” Bolivar said. “That’s a big part of it. When we score, we have to keep scoring and putting the pressure on.”

Great Lakes cut the lead to 5-3 in the third on a two-run homer from Jair Camargo.

The Loons took a 6-5 lead with three runs in the seventh off Dragons reliever Matt Pidich. Chris Roller opened the inning with a solo home run and Camargo followed with a double. Two batters later, Niko Hulsizer doubled, scoring Camargo from second to tie the game. With two outs, Pidich walked into the eventual game-winning run from third base.

The Dragons threatened in the eighth inning, but couldn’t score Michael Siani from second base.

The Loons added an insurance run in the ninth inning when Jacob Amaya worked a walk with one out. He advanced to second on a wild pitch by Julio Pinto and scored on a single by Paulson.

With two outs In the ninth, Shard Munroe walked and Schuyler doubled to put runners on second and third, but Pabel Manzanero flied out to center field to end the game.

“It was a good sign,” Bolivar said. “The guys gave themselves a chance to get back into the game.”

• The Dragons will face Loons right-handed pitcher and former Reds prospect Josiah Gray (0-0, 2.08 ERA) in the final game of the four-game homestand at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Gray was traded to the Dodgers organization along with former Dragons Homer Bailey and Jeter Downs as part of the blockbuster deal that sent big leaguers Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood to the Reds.

James Marinan (1-1, 4.34 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for the Dragons.

• Dayton is off Monday, then travels to two Midwest League Western Division cities — Peoria, Ill. and Cedar Rapids, Iowa — for the first time since the 2017 season. The Dragons will play a three-game set in Peoria beginning Tuesday followed by three games next weekend in Cedar Rapids.

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