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

DERRICK STUCKLY BROWNWOOD BULLETIN derrick.stuckly@brownwoodbulletin.com

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.