BOILING SPRINGS – Gardner-Webb plated four runs in the fourth inning, swiped seven bases and collected 10 hits to win 8-6 in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader with Murray State.
The visiting Thoroughbreds (1-7) benefited from a pair of early-inning, wind-aided home runs in the opener – but also rapped out 12 hits – to win 8-5.
Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the fourth in Game Two, Gardner-Webb (6-8) needed a break and got it – as Murray State starter Michael Perconte plunked O.J. McFarland with one out in the frame. A sacrifice bunt pushed McFarland to second and – after Perconte was called for a balk and Shea Harris walked – Jonathan Ahearn doubled down the line in left to tie the score, 3-3, and give the ‘Dogs two more runners in scoring position with two outs.
Jamaal Kinard roped a two-run single to left center, giving Gardner-Webb its first lead of the day. Kinard swiped second and third base moments later, and scored on an RBI hit up the middle by Matt Rizzuto. Perconte got out of the inning with Rizzuto on third base, but GWU had seized momentum and a 6-3 lead.
After a pair of GWU errors on the same play put Jason Payton on second to lead off the fifth – and James Akin belted a double to left center to cut the lead to 6-4. A sacrifice fly one out later plated Akin, cutting the lead to 6-5, but reliever Nate MacDonald fanned Justin Yount to end the threat.
Gardner-Webb got the run back in the bottom of the inning, as O.J. McFarland hammered a double off the bottom of the fence in left center – a ball that would have normally left the park if not for 40 mph wind gusts that knocked several balls down in left and left center Saturday – to drive in Joey Testa.
Murray State scored its final run in the sixth, as Tyler Pittman lined a solo home run out of the park with two outs, but MacDonald fanned Payton for the third time to get out of the inning still in front.
The Gardner-Webb bats got an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth, as Ahearn walked and moved to third on a pair of steals with one out. Rizzuto then executed a nice squeeze bunt to plate Ahearn for what would be the final margin.
Webster Beal shut down the Murray State offense out of the bullpen, fanning four batters in 3.0 scoreless, hitless innings of relief for the save. The junior southpaw did have to pitch around three walks, but on a windy day, did a good job of limiting the visitor’s offense.
Kinard finished 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI and three steals to pace Gardner-Webb’s 10-hit assault in the nightcap. Drewery (2-for-4, RBI) and Testa (2-for-4) also had a pair of hits for the home team.
Matt Tafazzoli worked 2.1 innings and scattered three hits (two runs) in his first start of the season, which resulted in a no decision. McDonald (2-0) fanned four and allowed just two earned runs in 3.2 innings of relief work for his second victory of the year.
Perconte (0-2) was saddled with the loss after allowing 10 hits and seven earned in 4.1 innings of work.
The opener proved to be nine innings of frustration for the home team, as Murray State went up early and saw deceptive lefthander Jacob Donze consistently work out of jams to keep the lead.
A walk, a bloop single and 20-30 mph wind gusts directly to right field proved costly for Gardner-Webb in the top of the first, as Akin put the visitors on top, 3-0, with a three-run home run over the fence in right – an area that normally swallows fly balls on calm days.
Gardner-Webb stranded four runners in the first two innings, with Donze working out of a bases-loaded jam in the second to preserve the three-run cushion. An RBI single by McFarland in the fourth trimmed Murray’s lead to 3-1, but Gardner-Webb could not find its offense.
Payton took Drewery the other way for a solo home run in the sixth, another wind-aided shot to right that put the Thoroughbreds up 4-1. Gardner-Webb trimmed the lead to 4-2 on a pinch hit RBI single by Jay McConnell, but Murray State touched the Bulldog pen for four runs in the top of the seventh to give their bullpen plenty of cushion.
Gardner-Webb collected three hits in the eighth, including an RBI single by Testa, to cut Murray State’s lead to 8-3, but left a pair of runners. GWU did get the tying run to the plate in the ninth with two outs, as McFarland took advantage of a bases-loaded situation with a bloop two-run single to shallow centerfield to trim the lead to 8-5.
With runners on the corners, Brock Miller nearly used the same high wind gusts to get a ball over the MSU rightfielder’s head, but Justin Leidolf got on his horse and hauled in the lofted shot to end the rally and the game.
Drewery (1-2) fanned seven in 6.0 innings, and saw all four runs allowed come on the two round-trip hits, in his second hard-luck loss of the season. Jonathon Ban and Devin Campbell each came on to pitch hitless, scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth to keep the score within striking distance.
McFarland was a beast at the plate in his first start at catcher, going 5-for-5 with a double and three RBI. He finished 6-for-8 on the day with four RBI and a pair of two-baggers. Rizzuto also had a pair of hits (2-for-5), as Gardner-Webb managed 12 safeties but stranded 12 base runners in the loss.
Murray State also collected 12 hits, with six coming in the seventh inning alone, as Seth Hudson (2-for-5, two runs), Payton (2-for-5, HR, 2 RBI), Akin (2-for-4, 2B, HR, 4 RBI) and Justin Yount (2-for-4, run) helped pace a balanced attack.
Donze (1-1) worked 5.2 innings and scattered six hits (four strikeouts, four walks) to pick up his first win of the year. Lucas Allen pitched the final out to get a save. The win was Murray State’s first of the season after playing a brutal early-season schedule that included losses to Mississippi State, Louisville and Kentucky.
The two teams will play the series’ rubber match on Sunday at 1 pm ET on Varsity Field.