By: Adam Barnes
Prior to this weekend’s series with Virginia Military Institute, Gardner-Webb had yet to win a series within conference play. However, the Runnin’ Bulldogs changed all that as they emphatically swept the Keydets after a 6-4 victory on Sunday.
“We came into this series thinking one game at a time,” said Gardner-Webb’s head coach Rusty Stroupe. “To be honest, looking at those standings we kind of really needed to sweep them, and VMI is a very evenly matched team with us.”
With the win, Gardner-Webb’s fifth straight, the Runnin’ Bulldogs move to being tied for sixth-place in the conference standings.
While Gardner-Webb was victorious in all three games, the series was rather competitive, as the Runnin’ Bulldogs only outscored VMI by four total runs throughout the series.
Gardner-Webb (25-20, 7-8 Big South Conference), will play a non-conference game at Furman on Wednesday, before returning home for a crucial three-game weekend series against Radford (25-18, 10-5 BSC).
“We’ve had some real emotional highs, but some real tough valley-lows, and our guys have really stuck together and our team chemistry has been tremendous,” said Stroupe. “I’m more proud of that than anything about this team.”
Game One (Friday):
Gardner-Webb’s Zeke Blanton drove in Adam McFarland for the game-winning run with a sacrifice fly in the 10th inning to clinch a 4-3 comeback victory in extra innings over Virginia Military Institute on Friday.
Blanton finished the game going 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. Mitch Warner (4-1) recorded the win for Gardner-Webb after pitching four innings in relief giving up just one walk and one hit while striking out five batters.
Game Two (Saturday):
Adam Izokovic tied the school’s single season saves record by tallying his ninth save of the year as Gardner-Webb won another close game on Saturday with a 5-4 victory over VMI.
Izokovic, which currently holds the career record with 23 saves, tied Daniel Planck’s record set back in 1999.
After entering the eighth inning with a 4-3 lead, Gardner-Webb allowed VMI to tie the game as Nick Dwyer scored Rob Dickinson with a sacrifice fly.
However, the Runnin’ Bulldogs would respond in the bottom of the inning as Coleman drove in Alex Newman for the go-ahead run with a suicide bunt.
Gardner-Webb had seven players tally one hit throughout the game, and McFarland, Coleman, and Blanton each recorded and RBI in the game.
Starting pitcher Andrew Barnett was given a no decision as he scattered five hits, four runs, three walks, and four strikeouts over seven innings, and Jeff Howell (2-3) picked up the win after pitching an inning of relief for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
Game Three (Sunday):
Gardner-Webb drove in three runs in the bottom of the first inning and didn’t look back on their way to a 6-4 victory on Sunday afternoon.
After Blanton stole home to record the first run of the game, Coleman sent a ball back to deep center for a two-run home run to give the Runnin’ Bulldogs a comfortable lead after an inning of play.
In the fourth inning, Gardner-Webb took advantage of three straight walks by VMI’s Coby Cowgill as Dusty Quattlebaum hit a sharp ball by the second baseman to score two runs and give the Runnin’ Bulldogs a 5-2 lead.
VMI took advantage of a defensive error by the Runnin’ Bulldogs to score two runs in the ninth inning, but it was not enough to overcome the deficit.
Gardner-Webb was led offensively by Quattlebaum, who batted 3-for-4 from the plate with two RBIs, Coleman who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored, and Blanton’s 1-for-2 performance with an RBI, a run scored, two stolen bases, and three walks.
Both teams had an issue stranding runners on base, as VMI left nine runners on base and Gardner-Webb left eight runners as well.