TUCSON, Arizona — The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets’ hot start to the baseball season continued over the weekend with three victories in four games at the Tucson Invitational.
After splitting a doubleheader with Gutasvus Adolphus College Friday, the Yellow Jackets followed with victories of 13-9 over Wheaton and 12-7 over Rockford to improve to 8-2 overall.
In Saturday’s win over Wheaton, the Yellow Jackets built a 5-1 lead through three innings, then tacked on five more in the fifth. HPU led 10-1 and then 13-2 heading to the eighth inning, where Wheaton made a feverish rally.
Blake Null continued his torrid start offensively with a 4-for-4 effort that included a triple and four RBIs. Cliff Lunceford was 2-for-3 with three RBIs, while Joshua Gerrig added a 1-for-3 effort, tripling to drive in a pair of RBIs.
On the mound, Seth Owen started and picked up the win, yielding one earned run on three hits with four strikeouts and four walks in six innings.
In the triumph over Rockford, the Yellow Jackets erased a 5-1 deficit by tallying six runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth, flipping the script to take a 9-5 lead.
Rockford closed to within 9-7 in the top of the seventh, but HPU added two more runs in the bottom half and an additional insurance run in the eighth.
Null again led the charge with a 2-for-5, two-RBI effort at the plate. Noah Payne finished with two hits and an RBI while Benjamin Lewis and Jay Holland both chipped in one hit and one RBI.
Jacob Salazar, David, Groves and Noah Coronado also collected base hits for Howard Payne.
On the mound, Preston Newman went six innings to collect the victory, surrendering five runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and a pair of walks.
Kyle Purdes pitched the final 2.2 innings to earn the save, allowing just one hit with one strikeout.
On Friday against Gustavus Adolphus, the Yellow Jackets dropped the first outing, 3-2, but rallied for a 12-3 victory in the second game.
In HPU’s victory, a five-run third inning for the Yellow Jackets broke open the game, while the Howard Payne defense and pitching staff limited GAC to three runs — all in the second inning.
Offensively, Null went 2-for-4 at the plate with four RBI, while Lunceford was 4-for-4 with two doubles and a pair of RBIs.
Shawn Brody picked up the win in relief, throwing four innings. Kory Owen threw two-thirds of an inning on the mound, Purdes went one inning, and Ethan Cerna threw the final third of an inning. Wesley Smith started and pitched one frame.
In the first game, Howard Payne led 2-1 heading to the bottom of the seventh and final inning, but gave up a two-run double.
The Yellow Jackets scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings to gain their 2-1 advantage. In the fourth, a Blake Laney RBI sacrifice bunt scored Gerrig,who had reached on a walk. In the fifth, a Bailey Smith RBI sac fly to right field scored J.W. Ledbetter.
Dylan Vilaros allowed three runs on eight hits with eight strikeouts in 6.2 inning, but took the loss.
The Yellow Jackets will head to Jackson, Mississippi next weekend to resume American Southwest Conference action with three games against Belhaven.