HPU falls to LeTourneau, 11-3, and Louisiana College, 8-4, for early exit

SAN ANGELO — What was expected to be a showcase weekend for the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets baseball program deteriorated into a worst-case scenario.

First, Thursday's thunderstorms forced the American Southwest Conference Baseball Championship's Blue Bracket — hosted by the regular season champion Yellow Jackets — to be moved from Don Shepard Park in Brownwood to Foster Field in San Angelo, nullifying Howard Payne's home-field advantage.

Then, when play finally resumed Friday, the top seed Yellow Jackets fell to No. 8 seed LeTourneau, 11-3, in their tournament opener, then lost an elimination game to No. 4 seed Louisiana College, 8-4, as Howard Payne's season reached an abrupt conclusion.

The Yellow Jackets — who dropped just four of 21 ASC games during the regular season — finished with a 26-16 overall record. In games at Don Shepard Park, Howard Payne owned a 17-3 mark and lost just one ASC contest on its home turf.

In Friday's tilt against LeTourneau (22-19), Howard Payne surrendered 13 hits — including a home run and five doubles — while the defense committed four errors. The Yellow Jackets gave up the first three runs and trailed 6-3 after five innings, but LeTourneau tacked on five more runs in the seventh and eighth innings combined.

Bryson Liro was tagged with the loss, yielding five runs on eight hits with one strikeout and one walk over four innings.

Offensively, HPU produced 11 hits but left eight base runners stranded. Noah Payne went 5-for-5 with a triple, double and one RBI, while Jacob Salazar homered in the third innings and generated two RBI. Nolyn Box finished with a pair of singles while Ty McCain, R.J. Roberts, and Cliff Lunceford contributed hits as well.

In the loss to Louisiana College (30-11), Howard Payne again found itself down by three runs early and was staring at a 7-1 deficit through four complete frames. The Yellow Jackets scored their final three runs of the season in the bottom of the fifth, but the comeback fell short.

Howard Payne surrendered 15 more hits in the nightcap which again included a home run and five doubles. Preston Newman was dealt the defeat as he gave up six earned runs on six hits with one strikeout over 3.1 innings.

On the offensive end, the Yellow Jackets chalked up eight hits and drew a pair of walks, but left six men on base. Salazar, Lunceford and Jacob Rodriguez tallied two hits apiece while Joshua Gerig added a hit and a pair of RBI and Rylee McGee collected one hit with an RBI.

The winner of the Blue Bracket will go on to face the winner of the Red Bracket, hosted by Concordia, next weekend at the site of the highest remaining seed in a best of three series to determine the ASC champion and automatic qualifier for the NCAA Division III tournament.