BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. - The Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs manufactured a run in the eighth inning to take the lead, and a ninth-inning rally by the VMI Keydets fell just short as GWU held on for a 5-4 win, Saturday afternoon at John Henry Moss Stadium in Boiling Springs, N.C. It was the second straight one-run game in the three-game Big South series.
After VMI (14-29, 6-14 Big South) tied the game in the eighth on a Nick Dwyer sacrifice fly, Gardner-Webb (24-20, 6-8 BSC) reclaimed the advantage in the bottom half. Dusty Quattlebaum led off with a single off Adam Lopez, and Alex Newman pinch-ran at first base. Lopez then bounced a breaking ball in front of the plate, and it caromed off Keydet catcher Matt Winn and went to the backstop. Newman was able to advance to third, and he would then score on a squeeze bunt by Scott Coleman, giving the home team a 5-4 lead.
The Keydets came right back in the ninth inning, as Thomas Stallings worked a walk to lead off the frame. Gary LeClair pinch-ran, and was bunted to second by Brandon Angus. One out later, GWU closer Adam Izokovic missed with his first two pitches to Rob Dickinson and then opted for the intentional walk, setting up a dual with George Piccirilli with the game on the line.
Piccirilli worked the count to 2-2, fouling several pitches off in the process, and then hit a slow, multi-hopper into the shortstop hole, a grounder that appeared headed for left field. Gardner-Webb shortstop Ryan Hodge slid to a knee, cut the ball off and, still on the ground, threw to third baseman Henry Rundio for the force on LeClair, ending the game.
Starter Andrew Barnett picked up the win for Gardner-Webb, moving to 4-3 with seven innings of work, during which he allowed four runs, all earned. Lopez (0-2) took the loss in relief, as he surrendered a run on a hit in his lone inning on the mound, while Izokovic recorded his ninth save.
The Keydets, responding to Gardner-Webb's extra-inning win Friday, jumped ahead early against Barnett. Dickinson and Piccirilli walked to start the game, and a Jacob Morley single loaded the bases. Cameron Walter then bounced into a 6-4-3 double play, scoring Dickinson and giving VMI a 1-0 advantage.
That margin grew to 3-0 just one inning later, when Winn singled to open the frame and Stallings was hit by a pitch. Angus then laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving the runners to second and third, and Drew Bryan drove him Winn with a sacrifice fly. The next batter, Dickinson, then drilled a triple in the right-center field gap, scoring Stallings to put the Keydets up, 3-0.
Gardner-Webb tied the game in the bottom half, as the first two runners reached via a hit by pitch and a walk by Keydet starter Campbell Henkel. Adam McFarland plated one run with an RBI single, and Rundio got another in via a double play grounder. The tying run, Brad Collins, would then score on a wild pitch, knotting the game, 3-3.
GWU then went ahead in the fifth inning, thanks to a Zeke Blanton RBI single. One batter later, Henkel was out of the game and Andrew Deal was on in relief. Deal got out of trouble with a strikeout of John Harris, on which Blanton was thrown out trying to steal third, and the Keydet senior would go on to throw 2 1/3 sparkling, hitless innings.
That allowed the Keydets a chance to rally, and they did so in the eighth. Dickinson led off with a sharp single to right, sending Barnett to the showers and bringing on reliever Jeff Howell. Piccirilli bunted Dickinson to second base, and GWU opted to intentionally walk Morley. With two on, Brandon Diamond pinch-hit for Walter, and Diamond reached via a perfectly executed bunt hit down the third base line, loading the bases for Dwyer's sacrifice fly.
Henkel, the Keydet starter, did not figure in the decision as he allowed four runs over 4 1/3 innings, while the Keydet offense was led by Dickinson's 2 for 3 afternoon. No GWU player had multiple hits in the game.
The Keydets and Runnin' Bulldogs will wrap up their series Sunday, as the two teams do battle at 2 p.m. in Boiling Springs.