ALPINE — The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets picked up a series victory over Sul Ross Lobos, capturing the opening and closing contests of their three-game American Southwest Conference baseball set.
In Friday’s series opener, the Yellow Jackets scored five runs in the top of the ninth inning to snatch a 10-7 victory.
Down 7-5 when the ninth began, JW Ledbetter drew a one-one walk and all the damage occurred with two outs. First, pinch-hitter Noah Coronado was hit by a pitch to extend the inning, then Noah Payne doubled home Ledbetter to trim the deficit to 7-6. Jay Holland followed with a two-RBI double to right field that plated Payne and Tucker Cavaness, running for Coronado, to push HPU in front, 8-7. Cliff Lunceford follow with an RBI double to right field that knocked in Holland, and Joshua Gerig singled home Lunceford before Gerig was retired at second base trying to stretch the hit into a double.
HPU trailed 4-1 heading to the fourth when the Jackets knotted the score at 4, and added a run in the fifth to grab a 5-4 advantage. Sul Ross, however, surged in front, 7-5, with three runs in the bottom of the sixth.
The Yellow Jackets’ first run in the top of the first was the result of a Lunceford one-out triple, followed by a Gerig RBI single up the middle.
Howard Payne’s three-run fourth featured a lead single by Blake Null, a two-out walk by Jacob Rodriguez and a two-RBI double down the left field line by Payne. Holland then doubled to left to knock in Payne with the tying run.
The Jackets took the lead in the fifth when Null belted a two-out solo home run to right field.
HPU collected 13 hits — three each by Holland, Lunceford and Null and two apiece from Gerig and Null. Payne and Holland finished with three RBIs each, Gerig added two and Lunceford and Null chipped in one each.
Wesley Smith worked 2.1 innings of relief to earn the win on the mound, allowing just two hits with three strikeouts. Evan Rodriguez pitched the ninth and gave up a one-out single and a walk, but recorded the final two outs to notch the save. Seth Owen got the start and lasted three innings, surrendering four runs on three hits with four strikeouts and seven walks.
In Saturday’s finale, the Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 5-0 advantage after two innings and extended the advantage to 10-3 before Sul Ross closed with five runs in the bottom of the seventh and final inning.
Howard Payne again recorded 13 hits — three by Lunceford, two each by Holland, Rodriguez and John Killough and one apiece by Gerig, Null, David Groves and Bailey Smith. Holland, Lunceford and Null finished with two RBIs apiece while Killough, Groves, and Jacob Salazar contributed one each.
Dylan Vilaros picked up the win on the mound, tossing five innings with three runs allowed on seven hits and nine walks with one strikeout.
The Yellow Jackets led 4-0 after half an inning as Lunceford led off with a single and later scored on a wild pitch, while Groves singled home Gerig, who also singled his way aboard. Null followed with a two-run homer to left-center that plated himself and Groves.
HPU picked up its fifth run in the second inning as an RBI sac fly from Holland plated Rodriguez, who led off with a triple.
The Yellow Jackets made the score 6-2 in the fifth as Killough singled home Gerig, who walked.
Howard Payne led 8-2 heading to the bottom of the sixth as Lunceford’s RBI bunt single plated Smith, who doubled, while Salazar’s RBI sac fly knocked in Holland, who reached on an infield single.
The final two Yellow Jacket runs crossed the plate in the seventh as Holland’s RBI infield single scored Null, who walked, then Lunceford singled to right field to plate Killough, who doubled.
In the second game of the series, the Yellow Jackets forced extra innings with a run in the top of the seventh and final inning, but Sul Ross emerged victorious, 4-3, with a run in the bottom of the eighth.
Trailing 2-0 through four innings, Howard Payne scored single runs in the fifth and sixth to knot the score. Sul Ross regained a 3-2 edge in the bottom of the sixth, but the Yellow Jackets answered in the seventh.
HPU closed the gap to 2-1 in the fifth as Rodriguez led off with a double to left field and Holland followed with an infield single to shortstop. Lunceford moved both runners over with a sacrifice bunt and Gerig followed with an RBI ground out.
The Yellow Jackets drew even in the sixth as Benjamin Lewis started the frame with a single to right field, moved to second on David Groves’ sacrifice and scored on Payne’s RBI single to left.
Howard Payne tied the score again in the seventh when Lunceford ripped a one-out, solo home run to left-center field, bringing the score level at 3-all.
The Yellow Jackets finished with seven hits — two each by Lewis and Rodriguez and one apiece from Lunceford, Holland and Payne.
On the mound, Brenden Clanton worked five innings and yielded two runs — one earned — on three hits with six strikeouts and two walks. Jonathan George pitched two innings and surrendered one run on two hits with a pair of walks and a strikeout. Evan Rodriguez face three batters in the eighth, recording a strikeout while giving up two hits and the decisive run.
Heading into the final weekend of the season, the Yellow Jackets trail eighth place Hardin-Simmons (12-24, 9-12) by one game in the ASC standings. Both Louisiana College (18-13, 7-13) and Belhaven (12-23, 7-13) are a half-game behind HPU. The top eight seeds advance to two four-team brackets the weekend of May 4-6, with the winners of those brackets moving on to a best-of-three series May 11-12 to decide the ASC champion.
Howard Payne hosts Louisiana College for three games at Don Shepard Park — a 1 p.m. Friday doubleheader and a 1 p.m. Saturday finale.