Former Speaker of the House and 2012 Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Wednesday in front of a season-best crowd of 615 at John Henry Moss Stadium/Bill Masters Field.
North Carolina A&T (13-27) took a 1-0 lead with an unearned run in the top of the first inning, only to see Gardner-Webb (22-20) tie the game in the second on a sacrifice fly from Zeke Blanton to deep centerfield.
The Aggies rapped out four hits and drove home four runs in the top of the third to jump out to a 5-1 lead, getting RBI from Marquis Riley, Luke Tendler and Dairio Little. Gardner-Webb wasted little time catching up, plating four runs of its own in the bottom half of the fourth.
John Harris followed a walk by Ryan Hodge and a Dusty Quattlebaum single with a two-run triple to trim the lead to 5-3, and scored on an RBI hit by Adam McFarland. Brad Collins scored to tie the game on a fielder's choice and accompanying throwing error before the Aggies could get out of the inning.
Neither team threatened until the sixth, when Collins led off the bottom half with a towering solo home run to left field for a 6-5 Gardner-Webb lead. The Runnin' Bulldogs got a one-out double from Blanton and loaded the bases with a pair of two-out walks, but left all three men on base.
Collins helped spark another rally in the seventh, belting an RBI triple to the wall in right center and scoring on an RBI double from Blanton that gave Gardner-Webb an 8-5 lead. Scott Johnson drove home Adam McFarland with a sacrifice fly for a 9-5 lead.
The Aggies made a push in the top of the eighth, getting a walk and a pair of one-out singles to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate. Kelvin Freeman drove home a run to trim the lead to 9-6 with a fielder's choice ground ball for the second out, but Hodge ended the threat with a spectacular stab of a ground ball to end the threat.
Hodge led off the bottom of the eight with a single, stole second and came around to score on a throwing error to push the lead to 10-6.
North Carolina A&T got a leadoff double from Bo McMillan and an RBI single from Brandon Wilkerson to trim the lead to 10-7 with one out in the top of the ninth - but closer Adam Izokovic closed the door after that hit to end the game.
Mitch Warner (3-1) picked up the relief win, hurling 3.0 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three. Brock Wilson, Jeff Howell and Izokovic each hurled an inning out of the pen to close out the game.
Gardner-Webb collected 11 hits in the game, with Collins (2-for-3, 3B, HR, 2 RBI), Hodge (2-for-3, 2 runs) and Blanton (2-for-3, 2 2B, 2 RBI) leading the way.
North Carolina A&T's Shane Carter (1-2) was tagged with the loss out of the pen, allowing three earned runs on four hits and a pair of walks in 4.0 innings of work.
Tendler (2-for-4, 2 RBI), Wilkerson (2-for-4, 3B, RBI) and Radford (2-for-4, RBI) paced the Aggies' 10-hit attack at the plate.
Gardner-Webb will return to Big South Conference play on Friday, hosting VMI in the first of a three-game series at 6:00 pm. The Keydets and Runnin' Bulldogs will also play on Saturday (2:00 pm) and Sunday (2:00 pm), with those afternoon games set to air on WGWG-FM (88.3 / wgwg.org).