Reigning American Southwest Conference regular season champion Howard Payne is projected to come in fifth place in this year's league race, according to the preseason coaches and media poll released Friday.
The Yellow Jackets (26-16, 17-4) received 186 points in the poll and three first-place votes. Howard Payne trailed Concordia (37-13, 15-6) with 282 points and 19 first-place votes, East Texas Baptist (30-14, 17-7) with 239 points and one first-place, UT-Dallas (21-21, 12-9) with 210 points and one first-place vote, and Louisiana College (31-12, 16-8) with 188 points in the poll.
Howard Payne is picked to place ahead of Hardin-Simmons (19-22, 12-10) with 176 points, Sul Ross (17-22, 11-10) with 147 points, LeTourneau (24-21, 10-11) with 146 points, Mary Hardin-Baylor (11-26, 5-14) with 97 points, Ozarks (16-23, 9-12) with 90 points, Belhaven (11-29, 3-18) with 56 points, and McMurry (10-29, 3-21) with 38 points.
Again following the College World Series format, the top two finishers in the ASC will host a pair of four-team double elimination tournaments the weekend of April 30-May 2. The winners of those mini-tournaments will advance to a best-of-three series May 7-9 for the ASC title and an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III tournament.
A pair of Yellow Jackets also landed on the ASC Players to Watch List in junior outfielder Nolyn Box and senior pitcher Xavier Haynes.
The Yellow Jackets open their season Feb. 7-8 with a pair of doubleheaders at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.
HPU's home opener is Feb. 15 with a twin bill against the University of Dallas at Don Shepard Park.
ASC action begins for the Yellow Jackets Feb. 21-22 with three games at East Texas Baptist. LeTourneau then invades Brownwood Feb. 28-29 for HPU's first home conference series.