HPU baseball, softball look to climb ASC ladder against UT-Dallas

DERRICK STUCKLY BROWNWOOD BULLETIN derrick.stuckly@brownwoodbulletin.com
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Having been on the verge of qualifying for the American Southwest Conference tournament the past few seasons, though not quite getting over the hump, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets face a key American Southwest Conference baseball series this weekend.

In the new ASC format, the top eight regular season finishers advance to the conference tournament and the Yellow Jackets (7-7, 4-5) — who are currently tied for seventh place with Hardin-Simmons (6-6, 4-5) and Mississippi College (5-8, 4-5) — visit sixth-place UT-Dallas (7-5, 4-4) for a three-game series Friday and Saturday.

The Yellow Jackets are coming off an 18-2 Tuesday loss at Dallas Christian, but Howard Payne has won each of its last two ASC series — against Ozarks (3-10, 1-8) and Louisiana College (2-10, 1-8) — after being swept by Mary Hardin-Baylor (10-2, 7-2) in their first three ASC outings.

Howard Payne currently ranks seventh in the ASC in batting with a .285 team average, while UT-Dallas is fifth with a .311 average. On the mound, UT-Dallas is fourth with a team ERA of 2.89 while the Jackets come in 10th with a 4.73 ERA. HPU’s .920 fielding percentage ranks last in the conference, while UT-Dallas is seventh with a .955.

On the softball diamond, the Howard Payne Lady Jackets will attempt to halt a 12-game slide and climb out of the ASC cellar as they host ninth-place UT-Dallas (5-8, 4-8) for three games Thursday and Friday.

Currently, Howard Payne (2-14, 1-11) is tied for 11th place with Ozarks (2-13, 1-11).

The Lady Jackets have faced three of the four conference leaders to open the ASC campaign — No. 10 UT-Tyler (14-1, 11-1), No. 6 East Texas Baptist (12-1, 11-1) and Mary Hardin-Baylor (8-7, 7-5) — as well as seventh-place LeTourneau (8-7, 5-7).

With those challenges behind them, the youthful Lady Jackets will look to vault up the ASC standings and reach eighth place, which would earn HPU a trip to the conference championship tournament. Howard Payne is currently four games back of LeTourneau and Hardin-Simmons (7-8, 5-7) for the final postseason berth.

In order for the Lady Jackets to make a push for the ASC tournament, significant improvement must take place at the plate and in the circle. HPU currently ranks last in the ASC with a .159 team batting average and is ninth in the conference with 6.56 team ERA.