Boiling Springs, N.C. - Senior Brad Collins homered with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extra innings, and Gardner-Webb scored on an Air Force error after loading the bases in the bottom of the 11th to knock off the Falcons, 7-6, at John Henry Moss Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Runnin' Bulldogs (10-3-1) continued to show off a flair for the dramatic early in the 2013 season, winning by walk-off for the third time already this season.
To lead off the bottom of the 11th, JJ Nazzaro (Puyallup, Wash.) laced a single to left off of Air Force's Alex Baker, then stole second to get into scoring position with nobody out. After Ryan Hodge advanced Nazzaro on a groundout, the Falcons intentionally walked Scott Coleman and Brad Collins (Weddington, N.C.) to load the bases with one out.
After Baker coaxed a fly out to right field from GWU's Henry Rundio, the Falcon right-hander got two quick strikes on designated hitter John Harris and seemed poised to end the rally. But a hard ground ball from Harris got through the legs of the first baseman to send the Runnin' Bulldogs to a 7-6 home win.
Gardner-Webb, which improved to 9-1-1 within the confines of John Henry Moss Stadium and 2-1 in extra-inning affairs with Saturday's win, jumped on top early with two runs in the 4th inning and three runs in the 5th inning, respectively. Coleman ripped a double to right center to start the rally, and Collins followed with another double to the fence to put GWU up 1-0. Collins moved to third on a Rundio single and then scored when Harris (Kennesaw, Ga.) grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
After GWU starter Andrew Barnett (High Point, N.C.) kept the Falcons scoreless through the top of the 5th, senior Danny Yelverton (Matthews, N.C.) drew a one out walked and moved to second on a bunt single by Nazarro. Hodge (Matthews, N.C.) worked the count for a walk, loading the bases for the three-hole hitter Coleman. The junior, Wilmington, N.C. native scored Yelverton and Nazzarro with a single to right field to put Gardner-Webb up 4-0.
A walk by Collins loaded the bases, and an RBI sacrifice fly from Rundio plated Hodge to push the lead to 5-0 in favor of GWU.
Air Force responded with four runs in the 6th to keep the game tight. Alex Bast reached on an error, Seth Kline walked, and Peter Johnson singled to load the bases with no outs for the Falcons. Consecutive passed balls allowed both Bast and Kline to score and push the score to 5-2.
Falcon shortstop Matt Thorne singled to left field off Barnett, scoring Johnson to cut GWU's lead to 5-3. Sophomore lefty Mitch Warner (Chambersburg, Pa.) was called in to stop the bleeding, and responded by striking out the first two batters he faced. After issuing a walk to Brian Sicher, Warner saw pinch hitter Matthew Roberts plate Air Force's fourth run of the inning with an RBI single. Warner struck out Bast to end the top of the 6th with Gardner-Webb clinging to a 5-4 lead.
Two more Air Force runs in the 7th inning put the Runnin' Bulldogs behind on the scoreboard for the first time Saturday. After Kline was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, Air Force DH Peter Johnson singled to center on a well-executed hit and run to put runners on the corners. Thorne, the Falcons' shortstop, put down a sacrifice bunt to score Kline and tie the game at 5-5.
A wild pitch allowed Johnson to move to third base, and Air Force's Tyler Saleck ripped a double to left center to give the Falcons their first lead of the game, 6-5.
In the bottom of the 7th, the Runnin' Bulldogs threatened to mount a rally of their own, loading the bases when Hodge and Coleman walked to lead off the inning and Collins reached on an error. Air Force capitalized on a grounder to the pitcher by turning a 1-2-3 double play. Coleman looked to score from third on a pitch in the dirt, but Falcon reliever Dillon Freeman tagged him out at the dish to keep a 6-5 lead intact heading into the 8th.
Senior right-hander Connor Scarborough (High Point, N.C.) kept Air Force within reach, setting the Falcons down in order in the top of the 8th.
Gardner-Webb looked to rally in the 8th, getting two-out singles from Benji Jackson (Huntersville, N.C.) and Hunter Smith (Whiteville, N.C.). Nazzarro sent a pitch from the right-handed Baker flying to center, but Baska tracked it down to send the game into the 9th inning.
After Scarborough held the Falcons at bay in the top half of the inning, Baker retired the first two GWU batsman in the bottom of the 9th frame as Air Force seemed poised to hold on to its 6-5 lead in game two of the series Saturday afternoon.
Down 0-2 in the count, Collins homered to straight-away center, keeping the Runnin' Bulldogs' hopes alive with a game-tying solo shot. Rundio (Dallas, N.C.) stole second after reaching on an error, but Baker struck out Harris to send the game into extra innings tied at 6-6.
After both teams went hitless in the 10th, Air Force threatened in the top of the 11th with consecutive singles from Kline and Thorne to put runners and 1st and 2nd with two outs. Scarborough gave way to senior Jeff Howell (Kings Mountain, N.C.), who got Saleck to fly out to center field and end the inning.
Howell (.1 IP, 0 R) got the win in relief, improving to 1-0 on the season. Scarborough (4.2 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 4 K's), Warner (1 IP, 1 ER, 3 K's), and Barnett (5 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 3 K's) also contributed to GWU's win from the mound on Saturday.
Baker (1-2) took the loss for the Falcons after allowing only one earned run in 2.2 innings of relief. Bertelson (1-1) took a no-decision after striking out nine and allowing five earned runs in five innings.
At the plate, Gardner-Webb's Collins (3-4, 2 RBI, 2 BB, HR), Coleman (2-4, 2 RBI, 2 BB), and Nazzarro (2-6, 2 R) each had mutli-hit outings to pace the Runnin' Bulldogs. Rundio (1-5, RBI), Smith (1-2), Jackson (1-2, BB), and Harris (GW RBI) also had a hand in the dramatic Game 2 win over the Falcons on Saturday.
First pitch for game three of the three-game series between Gardner-Webb and Air Force is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. Sunday at John Henry Moss Stadium.