The Runnin' Bulldogs (23-20, 5-8 Big South) trailed 3-1 with two outs in the ninth before getting a pair of RBI singles to tie the game. VMI went quietly in the top of the 10th, and Blanton lofted a ball to right field with one out and Adam McFarland on third - and McFarland dashed home to beat the tag.
The win was the third in a row for Gardner-Webb, and spoiled an outstanding pitching performance by VMI starter Jeremy Brown. The righthander worked 8.0 innings, fanned nine and allowed only four hits - with none of those hits allowed after the third inning.
The Runnin' Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, with Zeke Blanton and Ryan Hodge roping back-to-back singles to lead off the frame. Dusty Quattlebaum followed with a sacrifice fly in foul territory to plate Blanton, but Brown rolled a double play ball to end the inning without further damage.
The Runnin' Bulldogs had a golden opportunity to add to its lead in the third, with Benji Jackson poking a one-out single up the middle and moving to third on Blanton's double with two outs. Brown again worked out of trouble, stranding both men with an easy grounder to second base.
VMI finally caught up in the top of the fourth, getting back-to-back doubles with two outs from Nick Dwyer and Matt Winn to tie the score. Gardner-Webb starter Matt Fraudin wheeled around to pick off Winn at second base to end the inning.
The Keydets surged in front with another two-out, extra base knock in the top of the sixth. Cameron Walter laced a triple into the corner in right field to drive home George Piccirilli for a 2-1 edge.
As VMI moved into the lead, Brown settled in and cruised, setting down 11 batters in a row to bring his team to the plate in the seventh still in front by a run. Winn led that frame off by roping a double off the base of the wall in left center - the Keydets' fifth double of the game at that point and Winn's second - chasing Fraudin from the game.
A single by Thomas Stallings through the left side wound up giving the Keydets a third run, but in odd fashion. Stallings hustled into second base when the throw to third was offline, and Winn trotted home for a 3-1 lead when a throw attempt to nail Stallings at second sailed into right field. Adam McFarland ended the play by throwing Stallings out at third from right field, and reliever Mitch Warner worked out of the inning without allowing any more runs to cross.
John Harris broke up the string of 11 batters retired when he reached on a dropped fly ball error in the seventh, but Brown cleared the bases with a 4-6-3 double play ball. A long fly ball off the bat of Brad Collins was caught at the warning track to end the inning.
Warner kept the Keydets off the board in the eighth and ninth, and Blanton drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth to bring the tying run to the plate. Brown then plunked Hodge with a 2-1 slider to put the 'Dogs in business.
Closer John Garrett got the call from the bullpen, and Dusty Quattlebaum greeted him with high, deep fly ball that was caught by Jacob Morely with his back against the fence in right field. Blanton moved to third on the play, but was thrown out on a fielder's choice at the plate in the next at bat.
Scott Coleman delivered a big, two-out single to trim the lead to 3-2, driving home Hodge with a rope to left center and moving the tying run into scoring position. Collins then ripped a 1-2 pitch into left for an RBI single, driving in pinch runner Alex Newman to tie the score, 3-3.
Garrett kept the score tied, however, picking off a runner at second base to send the game to extra innings.
Warner retired the Keydets in order in the top of the 10th, and Gardner-Webb quickly got men on base with a leadoff single by McFarland and a bunt single by Scott Johnson. A fielder's put runners at the corners with one out, setting up Blanton's sacrifice fly to win the game.
Warner (4-1) picked up the win, tossing 4.0 scoreless innings and allowing just one hit. The Chambersburg, Pa., freshman fanned five batters and walked just one to pick up his second win in as many games this week.
Fraudin allowed just two earned runs in 6.0 innings, fanning fie and walking one in a no decision.
Gardner-Webb had eight hits in the game, with Blanton leading the way. Six other Runnin' Bulldogs had one hit each.
Garrett (2-3) was tagged with the loss, allowing one run on four hits in 1.1 innings out of the pen. The Keydets also had eight hits, with seven of those going for extra bases (five doubles). Piccirilli (2-for-3, 2B, run) and Winn (2-for-4, 2 2B, RBI) each had two safeties for VMI.
The Keydets and Runnin' Bulldogs will play the second game of this weekend's series on Saturday at 2:00 pm, with VMI ace Coby Cowgill facing Gardner-Webb's Andrew Barnett.