LONGVIEW — Playing for the first time since April 2, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets dropped their first American Southwest Conference baseball series of the season at LeTourneau, falling 5-4 in 10 innings Thursday and 7-6 in eight innings Friday before salvaging the weekend finale, 5-4.
Alone in first place in the ASC standings prior to the series, Howard Payne (21-12, 14-4) still owns a two-game advantage over its nearest competition, the Hardin-Simmons Cowboys (16-14, 12-6).
In the final game of the series, the Yellow Jackets scored all their runs in the fourth inning to open a 5-1 advantage, then held off a LeTourneau (20-14, 9-6) rally down the stretch.
The decisive fourth inning for Howard Payne began with Noah Payne being hit by a pitch ahead of a double from Joshua Gerig. Ty McCain then reached on an error that allowed Payne to score and pull the Yellow Jackets even at 1-all.
R.J. Roberts followed with an RBI single to left field that plated Gerig with the go-ahead run. Two batters later, with two outs, Rylee McGee launched a three-run home run to left field that proved to the game-winning hit.
LeTourneau added a run in the bottom of the fourth and two more in the fifth before the Yellow Jacket bullpen closed the door.
Preston Newman started and worked 4.2 innings, allowing three runs on four hits with four strikeouts to tally the win. Xavier Haines collected the save, pitching the final inning, while Kyle Purdes and Johnny Cravey added 1.1 innings of scoreless relief with two strikeouts and one hit allowed.
Howard Payne finished with just five hits — two from McGee and one each from Gerig, Roberts and Jacob Rodriguez.
In the series opener, the Yellow Jackets committed an uncharacteristic five errors in a 5-4, 10-inning loss
LeTourneau scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th as the result of a one-out Kyle Guevara RBI single to center field, which plated Noah Mahoney, who doubled off Brenden Clanton to begin the frame.
Howard Payne jumped out to a 3-0 lead through three innings, but LeTourneau drew even at 3 in the bottom of the seventh. The Yellow Jackets regained a 4-3 edge in the top of the eighth, but LeTourneau again knotted the score in the bottom of the ninth.
The Yellow Jackets recorded six hits — all singles by Payne, McCain, Manny Torralba, David Groves, Nolyn Box and Cliff Lunceford.
On the mound, Chandler Clark, Ben Schardt, Ryan Richardson, Haines and Brenden Clanton teamed up to allow just one earned run on 10 hits with six strikeouts and four walks.
HPU's first run in the first inning scored when Torralba's RBI fielder's choice drove in Payne, who was hit by a pitch to start the contest.
The Yellow Jackets tacked on two runs in the third as Lunceford and Payne singled in succession, followed by an RBI sacrifice fly from Gerig and an RBI single by McCain.
Howard Payne's final run, in the eighth, crossed the plate when Groves singled home Gerig, who drew a one-out walk.
In the 7-6 loss in eight innings, HPU fell behind 3-1 in the fourth inning, closed to within 3-2 in the fifth, found itself in a 5-2 hole after six, jumped ahead 6-5 in the seventh and gave up the tying run in the bottom of the frame to force extra innings.
Brandon Ramirez's RBI single in eighth scored Lee Hosie with the winning run for LeTourneau.
HPU generated nine hits — two each from Payne and Box, and apiece from Gerig, McCain, Roberts, Torralba, and Keldon Crawford.
On the mound, Bryson Lyro, Kory Owen, Clanton, and Seth Owen combined to allow six earned runs on 10 hits with five strikeout and one walk.
HPU scored a run in the first when McCain singled to right field to drive in Payne, who led off with a single. The Yellow Jackets added their second run in the fifth as Payne's two-out RBI double to left field drove in Crawford, pinch-running after a Torralba single.
The Yellow Jackets' four-run seventh featured a Box leadoff infield single, followed by a two-run homer to left by Crawford. Payne was then hit by a pitch and Gerig responded with a two-run blast over the left field wall, giving the Yellow Jackets a short-lived advantage.
Howard Payne is back on road Thursday and Friday for three games at ASC rival UT-Tyler that will not count in the league standings due the Patriots' impending departure for the NCAA Division II ranks.