The Runnin' Bulldogs (9-3-1) scored four runs in the frame to break a scoreless tie. Ryan Hodge led off with a triple and scored on an RBI single by Scott Coleman for a 1-0 lead – then John Harris reached on a fielding error to put two men on.
After a sacrifice bunt and a strikeout, Rundio stepped in the box and belted his shot to left for a 4-0 lead.
Air Force (2-7) got an RBI ground out from Spencer Draws in the top of the fifth to trim the lead to 4-1, and closed to within 4-2 on a two-out error that allowed a run to cross in the top of the eighth.
Air Force put the tying run on board quickly in the ninth, getting a leadoff double from Matt Thorne and a single from David Baska to put men at the corners. A sacrifice bunt drove in Thorne to cut the lead to 4-3, and moved Baska into scoring position.
Howell then coaxed a fly ball to center and struck out Garrett Custons to end the game.
Gardner-Webb collected six hits in the game, with Coleman going 2-for-4 with a double to lead the way. Rundio (1-for-3, HR, 3 RBI), Sam Fulginiti (1-for-3), Hodge (1-for-4, 3B, run) and Harris (1-for-3, run) also had hits for the Runnin' Bulldogs.
Air Force managed seven hits, with Baska pacing the effort by going 2-for-4 with a run. Peter Johnson, Matthew Roberts and Draws had RBI in the game.
Cameron White (0-3) was tagged with the loss, allowing three earned runs (four total runs) and six hits in 8.0 innings of work (five strikeouts).
The two teams will play the second of a three-game series on Saturday at 2:00 pm.