Lady Jackets softball settles for split with Hardin-Simmons

Derrick Stuckly / Brownwood Bulletin

ABILENE — Three outs away from a doubleheader sweep, the Howard Payne Lady Jackets instead settled for a split with the Hardin-Simmons Cowgirls Friday in American Southwest Conference softball action at Ellis Field.

The Lady Jackets notched a 5-4 victory in the opener, then dropped a 2-1 nine-inning decision to the Cowgirls. The rubber match of the series will take place at noon today.

In the 5-4 victory, Celina Ortiz’s three-run home run midway through the game pushed Howard Payne (11-14, 8-12) in front. The Lady Jackets then withstood a late Cowgirls (13-11, 9-11) rally.

Trailing 2-1 in the top of the fourth inning, Rachel Hitt reached on an infield single and Gaby Muniz followed with a bunt hit off HSU’s Tori Rodriguez, who surrendered three earned runs on seven hits with four strikeouts and four walks over seven innings. Ortiz was next up and on a 2-2 count she launched a three-run homer over the right field fence to stake the Lady Jackets to a 4-2 edge.

Howard Payne added a much-needed insurance run in the sixth as Sabrina Ochoa reached on a one-out single through the right side, Muniz followed with a two-out bunt single and Ortiz singled to load the bases. An error — one of three for the Cowgirls — by catcher Lauren Williams on a throw behind Ortiz at first base allowed Ochoa to score what would be the decisive run.

Hardin-Simmons struck for two runs in the bottom of the sixth as Alexis Vines walked with one out and Kara LeLeux belted a two-out, two-run homer to right-center on a 3-2 pitch by Celese Tirres, trimming the deficit to 5-4.

Tirres picked up the victory in the circle as she surrendered three earned runs on six hits with six strikeouts and one walk. The HPU defense committed a pair of errors behind her.

At the plate, Muniz and Ortiz collected two hits each for the Lady Jackets while Hitt, Ochoa and Yasmine Ayala added one apiece.

Hardin-Simmons received two hits from Brownwood graduate Sydnie Darden, who also broke a Cowgirl record with the 51st stolen base of her career. LeLeux, Williams, Vines and Christian Garcia — who singled home the Cowgirls’ first run — added one hit apiece.

In HPU’s loss, the Lady Jackets tallied their only run in the top of the third inning.

Ochoa led off with a single to center, Hitt followed with a sacrifice bunt and Ortiz’s two-out RBI single to center plated Ochoa.

The Cowgirls answered in the bottom of the seventh as Sarah Truelove was hit by a pitch, then LeLeux laid down a bunt that resulted in a throwing error and Truelove scoring all the way from first base.

In the bottom of the ninth, Truelove led off with a triple down the left field line and LeLeux immediately singled her home to secure the victory for Hardin-Simmons.

Tirres took the loss in the circle for HPU, allowing one earned run on seven hits with three strikeouts and a walk.

The Lady Jackets finished with eight hits — two each by Ortiz and Ochoa and one apiece by Muniz, Ayala, Tayler Rushing and Adrienne Sanchez.

Lara Ammerman went the distance in the circle for HSU and struck out seven with one walk.

Darden generated four hits for the Cowgirls while Truelove and LeLeux each provided one.