With a renewed love of the game Howard Payne Yellow Jacket senior outfielder Noah Payne could be on track for an American Southwest Conference MVP season.

While others attribute their turnaround to more time in the gym or working with coaches in the offseason, Payne attributes a turnaround from what he considers one of the worst seasons of his college career to playing for the Oriels of Guam Major League Baseball.

“It’s just a bunch of local boys playing in it. Most of them weren’t my age, they were older, 26-27,” Payne said. “All of these guys were getting off work and going out to the ball field at 7 o’clock. They’re playing because they still love the game. I saw that and that is what sparked.”

That spark seemed to carryover into the spring with Payne batting a team-leading .412, tied for the team lead in RBI with 27 and a school-record 10 triples already. Along with leading or being near the top in nearly all offensive categories, Payne and the Yellow Jackets are also 11-1 in conference play and 15-9 overall. Despite finishing the 2018 season as an American Southwest Conference honorable mention, Payne considered it one of the worst seasons of his career and with only one season of collegiate baseball left he said he is having the time of his life.

“Having the season I did last year, I did not do as well as I wanted and it was my worst year statistically,” Payne said. “I came back more motivated and wanting to do more to help the team out. I felt like I failed the team last year. This year, I wanted to do my best. It’s my senior season and I wanted to leave it all on the field.”

As a senior Payne said he has slowly checked off many of the goals he set for himself before taking the field with the Yellow Jackets and said he has one goal left to accomplish, but kept it a secret in order to not jinx it. He said his team-goal is more important anyway and with his team winning 13 of their last 15 games he feels that goal becomes more tangible with every victory.

“We’ve never hosted a conference tournament. That is one of my team goals. Another is I ultimately want to win the conference and go play in Appleton, Wisconsin for a DIII title and win,” Payne said. “As far as individual goals, I’ve checked everything off this year except for one thing and I don’t want to say what it is. I don’t want to say that one thing. It’s just been an awesome year with an awesome group of guys.”