Lady Jackets win final two games, 7-6 and 10-3, after dropping opener, 9-5

JACKSON, Mississippi — The Howard Payne Lady Jackets earned a victory in their first American Southwest Conference softball series of the season, capturing the final two games over the Belhaven Lady Blazers Saturday.

After suffering a 9-5 loss in the series opener, Howard Payne bounced with victories of 7-6 and 10-3.

In the Lady Jackets’ one-run victory, Howard Payne (4-3, 2-1) clawed back from a 6-1 deficit, taking the lead with five runs in the top of the sixth inning.

Trailing 6-2 after five, HPU shortstop Aurora Luera drew a leadoff walk in the sixth against Belhaven (3-2, 1-2) pitcher Kassie Shipley. A ground out by center fielder Tonya Thompson moved Luera to second, where she scored on right fielder Alexis Sullivan’s RBI single up the middle. Catcher Kayla Hill followed with her own base hit to center field, then — with two on and one out — designated hitter Emily Martinez ripped a three-run home run that knotted the score at 6 apiece. First baseman Haley Slater followed with a solo blast that put Howard Payne up for good, 7-6.

Gabrielle Roque collected the victory in relief, pitching four innings and allowing just one run on three hits.

The Lady Jackets manufactured eight hits — two by Slater and one apiece from Luera, Thompson, Sullivan, Hill, Martinez and left fielder Brianna Luna.

HPU grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the third when Luera scored on an error, and the Lady Jackets’ second run was the result of an RBI ground out by Luna that plated Madison Love, running for Slater who singled, making the scoring 6-2 in the top of the fifth.

In the nightcap triumph, the Lady Jackets tallied the first seven runs of the contest and put the game out of reach with a four-run top of the fifth.

Howard Payne generated 13 hits — three by Sullivan, two each by Luera, Slater and third baseman Ragen Noriega, and one apiece by Thompson, Hill, Martinez and pinch-hitter Kayla Anderson.

In the circle, Tia Campos chalked up the victory by tossing three innings of shutout ball. Hannah Stuart and Audrey Simpson teamed up to work the final three innings, yielding three runs on six hits with one strikeout.

Hill’s RBI sacrifice fly in the first inning scored Thompson, who singled with one out. The Lady Jackets extended the lead to 3-0 in the fourth as Anderson’s two-out, two-RBI double to center field brought home Noriega, who singled, and Slater, who reached on a fielder’s choice.

The lead grew to 7-0 in the fifth with all four runs scoring with two outs. Martinez singled home Sullivan, Slater doubled home both Martinez and Hill, and Noriega brought in Slater with a base hit.

After six innings, the Lady Jackets were in front 10-3 thanks to three more runs — an RBI double by Sullivan and a two-RBI double from Slater, who finished with a team-best four RBIs.

In Friday’s contest, the Lady Jackets carried a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the sixth, where Belhaven erupted for five runs.

Hill homered and drove in three runs for HPU, which mustered just four hits.

The Lady Jackets are back in action Friday and Saturday when they host Louisiana College (4-0, 0-0) in another three-game ASC series. A doubleheader will take place at 1 p.m. Friday with the finale at 11 a.m. Saturday.