ALPINE — The Howard Payne Lady Jackets continued their push for a 16th consecutive American Southwest Conference women's basketball championship tournament appearance with a 65-60 victory over the Sul Ross Lady Lobos Saturday afternoon, their fourth win in the last six games.
The Lady Jackets (8-13, 5-7) have climbed from the basement in the ASC West Division into sole possession of third place with four games remaining. HPU leads fourth-place McMurry (7-15, 4-9) by 1.5 games, fifth-place Sul Ross (5-16, 3-9) by two games and sixth-place Concordia (7-15, 3-10) by 2.5 games with two weekends left in the regular season.
Howard Payne raced out to a 22-12 lead over Sul Ross after one quarter Saturday and led by a comfortable margin for most of the contest before staving off a Lady Lobos' rally that trimmed the the Lady Jackets' lead to four points in the final minute.
Clinging to a 61-57 advantage with 48 seconds left, Payge Grable converted four consecutive free throws down the stretch to ice the victory for Howard Payne, which led by as many as nine points earlier in the fourth period.
Chelsey Harris finished with 21 points for the Lady Jackets followed by 20 from Grable, a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds from Anastasia Willis, three points from Julissa Ibarra and two points apiece from Salina Ali, Chelsi Woodard and Lily Janek.
The Lady Jackets shot just 37 percent (25 of 67) from the floor, but sank 8 of 28 three-pointers. Howard Payne also created 23 turnovers that led to 20 points, while giving the ball away 17 times which resulted in 11 points for Sul Ross.
The Lady Lobos owned a 39-36 edge in rebounds, but sank only 33 percent (19 of 56) of their field goals and a mere 3 of 13 three-pointers. Sul Ross was 19 of 26 from the free throw line, which kept the Lady Lobos in the contest, while HPU knocked down 7 of 9 attempts.
Jocelyne Roque paced Sul Ross with 17 points while Angalyn Latin also finished in double figures with 14 points.
Trailing 7-6 in the first period, the Lady Jackets reeled off 11 consecutive points to grab control of the game. Grable's three-pointer at the 4:26 juncture started the surge and pushed Howard Payne in front for good, 9-7. Grable then tacked on two more treys before Willis scored on a layup to boost the advantage to 17-7 at the 2:41 mark.
The Lady Jackets' lead peaked at 13 points, 33-20, at the 4:23 mark of the second period following a bucket by Willis. Sul Ross was able to close the gap to eight points, 37-29, by halftime. Through three periods, the Lady Lobos had further reduced the deficit to six points, 49-43.
Harris began the fourth quarter with a trey that increased HPU's lead back to nine points, 52-43. Still up by seven points, 60-53, after a Grable layup with 4:31 left, the Lady Jackets failed to convert another field goal the rest of the game.
A Willis free throw with 58 seconds left made the score 61-54, but Sul Ross answered with a Roque bucket and Makayla Hamilton free throw to creep within four points, 61-57.
The Lady Jackets return home for their final games at the Brownwood Coliseum against McMurry at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and Hardin-Simmons (15-6, 9-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday.