After two wins at Sul Ross, HPU looks to remain in ASC tournament hunt as Hardin-Simmons visits

Derrick Stuckly Brownwood Bulletin
Amanda Cruddas (left) and the Howard Payne Lady Jackets are one game out of sixth place with six games to play.

Heading into their final home stand of the season, the Howard Payne Lady Jackets find themselves only one game out of a three-way tie for the sixth and final seed into the American Southwest Conference softball championship tournament.

By sweeping a doubleheader from Sul Ross Saturday — 7-6 in eight innings and 8-0 in five innings — Howard Payne improved to 10-21 overall and 6-17 in the ASC, tied with Ozarks (12-19). Both HPU and Ozarks are one game behind LeTourneau (12-19, 7-12), UT-Dallas (11-18) and Concordia (7-24, 7-16), which currently share sixth place.

In order to capture the sixth seed, the Lady Jackets must finish strong against fifth-place Hardin-Simmons (17-13, 14-10), which visits for a 1 p.m. doubleheader Friday and a single game at noon Saturday. Then the Lady Jackets venture to No. 3 East Texas Baptist (22-2, 18-2) to make up three games cancelled by weather earlier in the season. A doubleheader will be held at 5 p.m. Monday, with a single game to follow at 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 21.

Against Sul Ross (3-23, 2-18) this past Saturday, the Lady Jackets rebounded from a 5-4 series-opening loss Friday by winning the final two games to capture just their second series victory in ASC action.

In Saturday’s first game, the Lady Jackets squandered an early 4-1 lead, then Sul Ross scored twice in the bottom of the seventh inning to force the extra frame.

HPU’s Erin McLeod launched a two-out solo home run to left field to score the decisive run in the top of the eighth.

A Sul Ross leadoff single in the bottom of the eighth was left stranded at second base when the final out was recorded.

The Lady Jackets generated a dozen hits, led by four from Gaby Muniz, who also drove in two runs. Amanda Cruddas added a pair of hits, while McLeod finished with the home run and two RBIs and Allison Eaton and Cherita George contributed one hit and one RBI apiece. Shandi Winstead, Adrienne Sanchez and Celese Tirres added one hit each, as well.

In the circle, Tirres pitched all eight innings and surrendered six runs — three earned — on 13 hits with three strikeouts and one walk.

In the 8-0 closing victory, the Lady Jackets tallied three runs apiece in the first and fourth innings and two runs in the second.

Tayler Rushing tossed a four-hit shutout, facing just 18 batters in five innings. The Lady Jackets also played flawless defense.

Eaton finished with two hits, including a double, and an RBI, while Cruddas doubled home a pair of runs. McLeod tacked on a hit and an RBI, while Muniz, George and Rushing contributed one hit apiece.