BOILING SPRINGS – Gardner-Webb rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth, scoring both on squeeze bunt plays to beat UNC Asheville, 3-2, Tuesday afternoon.
Gardner-Webb (2-5) improved to 2-0 at home with the win, but needed to use its legs to rally. Pinch hitter Brock Miller roped a triple into the right center gap with one out in the ninth, and scored when UNC Asheville reliever Ben Buchanan uncorked a wild pitch on a safety squeeze attempt by GWU – allowing Miller to trot home easily to tie the game, 2-2.
Buchanan recovered to get the second out of the inning, but Josh Drewery singled sharply off the pitcher’s leg to reach first – and moved to third on another sharp single by Daniel Cooke. Nate MacDonald then executed a suicide squeeze – with two outs – and legged out Buchanan’s throw to first, driving in Drewery to win the game.
UNC Asheville (3-4) saw a three-game win streak snapped with the loss.
Buchanan (0-2) took the loss, allowing two earned runs in 1.2 innings of relief work. The loss spoiled an effective start by lefty Josh Lett, who allowed just one unearned run on three hits in 6.0 innings (five strikeouts).
Webster Beal (1-0) got the win for Gardner-Webb, going 2.0 scoreless innings out of the pen. GWU starter Ben Campbell was also strong in a no decision, allowing just one unearned run in 5.0 innings of work. The sophomore southpaw scattered two hits in his first home start of the season.
Drewery went 3-for-3 to pace a nine-hit attack for Gardner-Webb. Cooke finished 2-for-4 at the plate, with Miller (1-for-1, 3B, run), Jonathan Ahearn (1-for-4, run), Joey Testa (1-for-4) and MacDonald (1-for-2, RBI) collecting the rest of the Bulldogs’ offense.
Kevin Mattison (2-for-4, 2B, run) and Matt Henson (2-for-3) paced UNC Asheville’s six-hit production.
Mattison got UNC Asheville on top early, doubling to right and moving to third on a fielding error by Cooke that allowed the ball to get away. Campbell uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Mattison to scamper home, putting the visitor’s on top 1-0. Campbell worked out of the inning without allowing another hit, erasing a walk with a pickoff and getting a ground ball to end the frame.
UNC Asheville held its lead firmly behind a strong effort from Lett, who kept Gardner-Webb hitless until a leadoff single in the fourth by Testa. GWU would post leadoff hits in the fourth and fifth, but could not get a run across.
GWU reliever Tim Thomas allowed a one-out double to Matt Henson in the sixth, and Elliott Arrington followed with a sharp RBI single to center – pushing Asheville’s lead to 2-0. Thomas recovered to strike out the next two hitters, and his squad would finally produce some offense in the bottom of the frame.
Ahearn, the Bulldogs’ speedy centerfielder, legged out an infield hit to get things started, moved to second on a one-out sacrifice bunt and used his legs to plate GWU’s first run. Ahearn stole third base easily and – when catcher John Whited’s throw caromed down the line in left, Ahearn sped home to trim UNC Asheville’s lead to 2-1.
After Thomas retired the visitors in order in the seventh, Gardner-Webb had its best chance of the day to get a rally started. UNC Asheville trotted out ace starter Alan DeRatt from the pen, but Drewery and Cooke belted hard singles into right to give Gardner-Webb runners at the corners with just one out. DeRatt worked out of the jam, however, coaxing a double play grounder to end the inning with GWU still down by a run.
Beal worked out of jams in both the eighth and the ninth to keep Gardner-Webb within striking distance, leaving three runners stranded – with the key coming on a spectacular defense play from Drewery in the hole to leave a man at third in the ninth.
Buchanan got Jamaal Kinard out on the first pitch of the ninth, but GWU skipper Rusty Stroupe went to his bench and called on sophomore Brock Miller in the clutch. Miller roped a 1-0 fastball the other way into the gap, and motored easily to third for his first career triple.
Pinch hitter Jeremiah Lokken had a safety squeeze in mind on a 1-1 count, but Buchanan’s throw to home was inside and wild, getting all the way to the backstop – allowing Miller to tie the game and setting up the two-out heroics by MacDonald.
Gardner-Webb will host Canisius (0-3) in a three-game series that begins Friday at 3 pm ET on Varsity Field. The Griffins were swept in a three-game series at No. 20 Alabama last weekend.