BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – Jeremiah Lokken’s bunt on a suicide squeeze play in the bottom of the 11th plated Jon Ahearn to give Gardner-Webb a 3-2 win over second-place Mercer Thursday afternoon.
The win was the fifth in a row at home for Gardner-Webb (22-28, 9-13 A-Sun) and came at the expense of Mercer closer Cory Guerrin (3-2), who had given up just nine hits all season long. Thursday marked just his second blown save of the season.
Ahearn was hit with the first pitch of the 11th inning, moved to second on a sacrifice squeeze and got to third after Daniel Cooke hammered a line drive off of Guerrin’s foot. As Ahearn sprinted for home, Lokken laid down a perfect bunt for the game-winning RBI, and reached first without a play.
Mercer (28-21, 13-9 A-Sun) broke a 1-1 tie with an unearned run in the top of the 10th, as Matthew Crawford poked a sacrifice fly to center – driving in Billy Shaghnessy, who led off the frame with an infield single off the glove of relief pitcher Matt Tafazzoli. Shaughnessy moved to second on a failed pickoff attempt and got to third on a fly ball from Nick DiMauro.
With Guerrin sprinting to the mound to start the bottom of the 10th, Gardner-Webb found its spark in the form of second baseman Matt Rizzuto. The Wilmington, N.C., sophomore got behind 0-2 with one out in the inning, but roped Guerrin’s next pitch sharply up the middle – breaking a string of eight batters retired in a row by the Bears’ staff.
Guerrin then threw a pickoff attempt down the line in right, and Rizzuto sprinted all the way to third base. Pinch hitter Jon Crockett tied the game with a sacrifice fly to left center before Guerrin could work out of the inning.
Tafazzoli retired the heart of the Mercer lineup in order in the 11th, setting up the late-inning heroics by the ‘Dogs.
The game was a textbook pitchers duel early on, with Gardner-Webb starter Jonathon Ban (ND) holding a five-hit shutout intact through 7.2 innings of work – with his team holding a 1-0 lead. Mercer’s Josh Thompson ruined the whitewash, banging a two-out double off the wall in left center to drive in Crawford and tie the game.
Gardner-Webb got its lone early run in the second inning off of Mercer ace Brantley New (ND), as Nate MacDonald laced a leadoff single, moved to second on a nice sacrifice bunt, and scored on Rizzuto’s RBI knock up the middle.
New would not be touched after that quiet surge, allowing just three more singles and fanning eight batters in 9.0 innings of work. The Bears’ senior, a 27th round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox last June who chose to return to Mercer, threw just 91 pitches in his efficient nine innings of work.
Gardner-Webb managed eight singles in the game, with Rizzuto (3-for-4, run, RBI) and Cooke (2-for-3) accounting for more than half of that total.
Ban went 8.0 innings in his second iron-man start in a row, throwing 118 pitches, scattering six hits and fanning six. Taffazoli (4-1) got the win with just one infield hit allowed in 2.0 innings of work.
Mercer’s seven-hit attack was paced by Eric Renfroe (3-for-5) and Josh Thompson (2-for-5, 2B, RBI).
The Bulldogs and Bears will play a doubleheader on Friday afternoon beginning at 1 pm ET in Boiling Springs.