MACON, Ga. – Gardner-Webb used a five-run second inning to build a comfortable lead, and held on for an 8-4 win over Mercer Friday night at Claude Smith Field.
The win was the fifth in a row for GWU in the opening game of an A-Sun series, and snapped a four-game losing streak overall for the Diamond ‘Dogs (20-22, 11-14 A-Sun). The ‘Dogs rapped out 15 hits on the night – and won for just the second time this season without plating at least nine runs.
Mercer (18-27, 12-13 A-Sun) took an early lead, but wouldn’t be able to hold on.
An infield chopper and a balk put Mercer leadoff man Matt Crawford in scoring position in the first inning, and a two-strike, two-out single from Mike Armstrong that fell in shallow right plated Crawford for a 1-0 Bears lead.
GWU plated its first five runs in the second inning, getting singles from Justin Loyd and Daniel Cooke to lead off the frame. Bubbie Spake was plunked for the 18th time this season to load the bases, and Jeremiah Lokken rolled a two-run single through the right side to give GWU a 2-1 lead. Matt Rizzuto blooped a double into left center to push the lead to 3-1, Tyler Johnson plated a run with an RBI groundout – and Brock Miller gave Gardner-Webb a 5-1 lead with a sacrifice fly to right.
Mercer strung together a pair of one-out singles in the bottom of the second, putting John Dortch and Jason Butts on the corners. A squeeze bunt by Nick Dimauro stayed fair to cut Gardner-Webb’s lead to 5-2, bringing the top of the Bears’ order to the plate. A single through the left side loaded the bases, but Brock Miller made a highlight-reel catch in right center – robbing a sure double into the gap, and doubling Dimauro off at second base to end the inning.
Justin Loyd led off the third with a solo home run to left, giving Gardner-Webb a 6-2 lead. After Cooke followed with a hit up the middle, Mercer went quickly to its bullpen. Cooke swiped second base with one out, but Bears’ relief man Lath Guyer got out of the inning when Rizzuto lined out to right.
After two fruitless innings, Gardner-Webb got back on the board in the sixth, with Spake leading off with a sharp single to center, moving into scoring position on a ground ball – and pushing the lead to 7-2 on an infield single by Rizzuto when the throw at first sailed to the edge of the Bulldog dugout.
Gardner-Webb’s Ban was lifted after his scheduled 5.0 innings of work, and Mercer got to the Bulldog bullpen quickly in the bottom of the sixth. Ryan Maxa walked leadoff batter Mike Armstrong, saw a blooper fall in fair to put a pair on board and – with one out – John Dortch belted a 3-2 pitch into right center to cut the GWU lead to 7-4. Maxa got out of the jam, however, fanning Jason Butts and getting a double play when Dortch was caught stealing in the same sequence.
GWU added an insurance run in the top of the eighth, with Spake hammering a double off the wall in right center and scoring on Rizzuto’s third hit of the night with one out.
Maxa shut the door in the eighth and ninth, fanning a pair of Bears in the ninth for his first save of the season. The Bradenton, Fla., junior worked 4.0 innings in relief, scattered two hits, two runs and fanned three. He didn’t allow a hit after the sixth inning.
Ban (3-2) picked up the win, going 5.0 innings, scattering seven hits and allowing just two runs (one strikeout/no walks).
Cooke (3-for-4, 2 SB) and Rizzuto (3-for-4, 3 RBI) paced Gardner-Webb’s attack at the plate with Loyd (2-for-5, HR, RBI), Spake (2-for-4, 3 runs) and Lokken (2-for-4, 2 RBI) also collecting at least two.
Justin Boyette (4-2) took the loss, lasting just two innings and allowing six runs on eight hits. Dortch paced Mercer’s nine-hit offense by going 3-for-4 with two RBI and a pair of steals.
Both teams will hit the diamond again on Saturday for a Noon ET doubleheader.