Cumberland baseball received an at-large berth into the NAIA Championship Opening Round on Wednesday and will play longtime state-rival Freed-Hardeman in Upland, Ind., on Monday.
The Phoenix earned a postseason berth for the first time since winning the national championship in 2014. This marks the 10th season for the NAIA Championship Opening Round, with CU winning the five-team event in 2010 (Joliet, Ill.) and 2014 (Kingsport) on their way to national titles.
Cumberland also played in the NAIA Championship Opening Round in 2009 (Hattiesburg, Miss.), 2011 (Paducah, Ky.) and 2013 (Joliet, Ill). The Phoenix enter this year’s Opening Round with a 34-19 overall record, 10-7 in Mid-South Conference play.
Cumberland lost 15-10 to Freed-Hardeman in Lebanon on April 4 this season, with the team’s other contest rained out in February in Henderson.
The Lions, a longtime rival of the then-Bulldogs as junior colleges decades ago and in the old Tennessee Collegiate Athletic Conference and TranSouth Conference, won the American Midwest Conference tournament championship last week and are 40-14 this season.
Bryce Lester, a sophomore shortstop from Lebanon, has started all 54 games this season and s batting .365 with four home runs and 28 RBI. His 72 hits and 36 walks lead the team. He’s also stolen a team-high 17 bases in 21 attempts.
CU senior Rayden Sierra earned Mid-South Conference Player of the Year honors and posts a .359 batting average with 16 doubles, 22 home runs, 54 RBIs and 60 runs scored in 51 games. He also has 25 walks and leads the club all of the aforementioned offensive categories except walks. He ranks second nationally in home runs, fourth in total bases (155), sixth in slugging percentage (.807).
Cumberland ranks third in the country with 83 home runs as a team, including nine by Mykel Gordon and eight apiece from Jared Schmidt and Carlos Moseley.