The Runnin’ Bulldogs (21-19-1) trailed 6-4 heading into the eighth, but generated a quick rally with three consecutive singles. Ryan Hodge’s hit through the left side plated Danny Yelverton to trim the margin to one, and pinch runner Alex Newman scored on a bases loaded error to tie the score.
John Harris led off the ninth with a sharp single to left and Taylor Fisher entered to run for the GWU catcher. A sacrifice bunt moved Fisher into scoring position, and a fielder’s choice into the hole at shortstop proved fruitful for the Runnin’ Bulldogs – as Gamecocks’ shortstop Joey Pankake threw the ball away at third base, allowing Fisher to race home to give Gardner-Webb a 7-6 lead.
Reliever Mitch Warner continued his strong work on the mound in the bottom of the ninth, getting three ground balls to retire the Gamecocks in order. It was the second relief win in two seasons for Warner (3-0) over a nationally-ranked team. The Chambersburg, Pa., southpaw pitched Gardner-Webb to a win over No. 4 North Carolina last March in Chapel Hill.
Warner hurled 4.1 innings out of the pen, scattering four hits, striking out two and allowing just one run. Starter Hunter Smith hurled a season-best 4.2 innings, giving up nine hits, but pitching out of trouble multiple times against the high-powered South Carolina lineup.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs did not show any nerves in front of a crowd of 4,825 – jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first on the strength of a two-run double from Brad Collins and ball thrown away at first that allowed Collins to score.
South Carolina rallied for a pair of runs in the second, sandwiching a pair of doubles around a single, an error and a balk to make the score 3-2 before Smith could work out of the jam. Two more singles and a costly error by the Gamecocks allowed Gardner-Webb to expand its lead to 4-2 in the top of the fifth – but lead would go away in the bottom half of that frame.
LB Dantzler led off the Gamecocks’ half of the fifth with a single and an error on a fielder’s choice allowed Brison Celek to reach. Grayson Greiner followed with double to deep right center to drive in both and TJ Costen gave South Carolina its first lead of the game with a two-out single. Warner came on to halt the rally with a ground ball.
South Carolina added an insurance run in the seventh, getting three singles – the final an RBI knock from Connor Bright – to go up 6-4. Warner again pitched out of further trouble, striking out Costen to end the inning and setting up Gardner-Webb’s rally in the final two innings.
Collins (3-for-5, 2B, 2 RBI) continued his red hot hitting for Gardner-Webb, and Ryan Hodge (3-for-4, 2B, RBI) came through with a big day to pace the offense for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
Yelverton (2-for-3, run) and Scott Johnson (2-for-3) also had big nights at the plate for Gardner-Webb – which batted in the visitors spot in a neutral site game played eight miles from campus. The Runnin’ Bulldogs stranded 12 men on base, but had its highest hit total since collecting 18 in early March at UNC Wilmington.
Joel Seddon (1-1) was tagged with the loss in relief for USC, allowing two unearned runs in 1.1 innings of work (three hits, walk, strikeout). Colby Holmes gave up seven hits and two earned runs in 3.1 innings of work in a no decision start.
The Gamecocks had 13 hits in the game, but stranded 10 runners. Dantzler (3-for-5, 2B, 2 runs), Pankake (2-for-5), Greiner (2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI) and Costen (2-for-4, 2B, RBI) led the South Carolina attack.
Gardner-Webb won’t have much time to rest, as it travels down I-85 to face USC Upstate on Wednesday at 6:00 pm in Spartanburg.
Tuesday marked Gardner-Webb’s first game against a team from the SEC since a 4-1 win over Georgia on March 11, 2007 in Athens. GWU has won three of its last four against teams from the SEC.
Gardner-Webb picked up its first win in its third try against South Carolina. The Gamecocks won games over Gardner-Webb in 1973 and 2003.
Gardner-Webb played its 16th game decided by a single run on Tuesday. The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 8-8 in those contests this season.
Gardner-Webb improved to 9-4 this season against teams from the State of South Carolina.