The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets salvaged the finale of their three-game American Southwest Conference baseball series against the Ozarks Eagles Saturday, after suffering their first two home losses on Friday.
Carrying a perfect 5-0 record at Don Shepard Park into the weekend series, the Yellow Jackets were swept by Ozarks, 2-1 and 11-8, in both games of a Friday doubleheader. Howard Payne rebounded Saturday, however, and posted a 14-4 victory.
In the series finale, the Yellow Jackets (11-6, 3-5) erupted for eight runs in the bottom of the first inning.
Cliff Lunceford drew a leadoff walk and moved to third base on Noah Payne’s single up the middle, then Benjamin Lewis’ RBI ground out plated Lunceford with the initial run. Blake Null then reached on an infield single and Blake Laney was hit by a pitch to fill the sacks with one out.
Jacob Rodriguez singled through the left side to drive home Payne with the second run, then David Groves was plunked by a pitch to plate Null. Jay Holland drew a bases-loaded walk that brought home Laney, then John Killough ripped a three-RBI triple to center field to score Rodriguez, Groves and Holland. Leading 7-0, Lunceford batted for the second time in the inning and knocked in Killough with an RBI single to left field.
The Yellow Jackets tacked on single runs in the second and fifth innings, and four more in the sixth. Ozarks (10-8, 5-4) scored once in the second inning and three times in the third.
HPU’s second-inning run was the result of Null being hit by a pitch to start the frame, followed by Rodriguez’s one-out double down the left field line and Groves’ RBI single to left, which scored Null.
In the fifth inning, Holland singled to center with one out and moved to second on a wild pitch. With two down, Lunceford singled up the middle to plate Holland.
The Yellow Jackets’ four-run sixth featured a leadoff inside-the-park home run by Payne. With two outs, Laney, Rodriguez, Groves, Holland, Killough and Lunceford walked in succession to plate the second, third and fourth runs of the frame.
Howard Payne finished with 10 hits — two each by Payne, Rodriguez and Lunceford, who drove in three, along with one apiece by Null, Groves, Holland and Killough, who knocked in four.
On the mound, Jonathan George pitched four innings and yielded four runs on six hits with one strikeout and three walks. Kyle Purdes tossed three scoreless innings with two walks, one strikeout and no hits allowed.
In the opening 2-1 defeat Friday, Howard Payne grabbed the lead in the bottom of the first as Payne, who reached a fielder’s choice that resulted in the first out of the inning, scored on a one-out RBI single up the middle by Null.
Ozarks drew even in the top of the seventh and final inning of regulation, as Josh Woolly led off with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a one-out RBI single up the middle by Fielder Dufrene off Brenden Clanton.
Then, in the top of the eighth, Sam Swartz drew a leadoff walk off Shawn Brody, then Breyden Varner followed with an RBI double to center field to drive home the decisive run.
Dylan Vilaros started on the mound for HPU and worked five scoreless innings, allowing one hit with five strikeouts and three walks. Clanton yielded one run on two hits with one walk and one strikeout in two innings, while Brody gave up a run on two hits with three strikeouts and a walk in one frame.
At the plate, HPU was limited to five hits — one each by Null, Lunceford, Lewis, Groves and Rodriguez.
In Friday’s 11-8 nightcap loss, the Yellow Jackets gave up three runs in the top of the first inning and were playing catch up ball the rest of the contest. After trimming the deficit to 3-2, the Yellow Jackets eventually found themselves down 8-2 before closing the gap to 8-6 in the bottom of the fifth. Ozarks tacked on three more runs in the seventh to pull away.
Preston Smith was tagged with loss, yielding seven runs on eight hits with two strikeouts and a pair of walks in four innings. Wesley Smith pitched the final three innings and surrendered four runs on four hits with three strikeout and two walks.
Offensively for the Yellow Jackets, Lewis tallied three hits — including a triple — and drove in three runs. Rodriguez recorded two hits, both triples with three RBIs. Lunceford, Payne and J.W. Ledbetter contributed singles to the cause.
The Yellow Jackets host Central Christian College for a 1 p.m. Tuesday non-conference doubleheader, then venture to East Texas Baptist (10-10, 3-6) for a three-game ASC set over the weekend. Games 1 and 2 will take place Friday beginning at 4 p.m., with the finale slated for 1 p.m. Saturday.