The gap between Howard Payne and the trailing teams in the ASC West softball race narrowed considerably this weekend, but the Lady Jackets were able to hold on to second place by capturing the final game of their four-game set with Concordia, 5-3, Saturday at Lady Jacket Field.

Howard Payne (11-12, 6-4) trails first-place Texas Lutheran (19-7, 9-1) by three games and holds a one-game edge over third-place teams Mary Hardin-Baylor (10-10, 5-5), Concordia (15-7, 4-4) and Hardin-Simmons (6-15, 4-4). The top four advance to the ASC tournament.

In Saturday’s series finale, all of Howard Payne’s runs crossed the plate in the first three innings. The Lady Jackets finished with seven hits, led by two each from Katie Poerner, Haleigh Caraway and Amanda Cruddas and one memorable hit from Tylene Middleton.

In the circle, Baillie Trumble worked all seven innings and allowed three runs on nine hits with two strikeouts and one walk to notch the victory.

In the bottom of the first, Poerner led off with a single against Concordia pitcher Zalysa Perez. With one out, Middleton crushed her school record ninth home run of the season, a two-run rocket that easily cleared the scoreboard in left field and staked HPU to a 2-0 advantage. Middleton’s ninth blast surpassed the previous season record of eight home runs set by Ashley Silva during the 2008 campaign.

The Lady Jackets added their second home run of the game in the bottom of the second as, with one out, Cruddas launched a solo shot to left field.

Concordia trimmed the deficit to 3-1 in the top of the third, but the Lady Jackets tacked on their final two runs in the bottom of the inning. 

Poerner led off with a single, stole second base and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Amanda Gober. Poerner later scored on a passed ball.

With two outs, Evangelina Tellez walked, Caraway singled and Jessica Morales walked to load the bases. Cruddas came through with an RBI single to left field that plated Tellez with the final HPU run.

Concordia closed to within 5-3 in the top of the fifth on a two-run homer by Erin Duhon — who also drove in the Lady Tornados’ first run with a sacrifice fly — but the rally ended there.

Saturday’s first game gave Concordia the series victory as the Lady Tornados followed Friday’s doubleheader sweep with a 12-5 triumph.

Howard Payne, which committed five errors, surrendered three runs in the top of the first inning and five more in the fourth before closing to within 8-5 in the bottom of the fifth. Concordia tacked on four more runs over the final two innings, however.

Duhon finished with three hits and three RBIs for Concordia while Jessica Parish also added three RBIs.

Poerner, Middleton and Tellez chalked up two hits each for HPU. Poerner also led the way with two RBIs, while Caraway, Pricilla Patino and Larisa Salazar added one each.

The Lady Jackets will venture to Kerrville Wednesday for a 2 p.m. ASC West doubleheader against Schreiner. HPU opened ASC West by sweeping two games from the Lady Mountaineers (2-20, 2-8) in Brownwood on March 13.