Patriots are back and shooting for more

May 23—As soon as the plane landed back in Kentucky after last year's Avista NAIA World Series, Cumberlands coach Brad Shelton and his players were already thinking about how they could get back to Lewiston.

The Patriots weren't satisfied with their 0-2 result in the program's first World Series appearance and they knew they were capable of more.

"We were disappointed that we lost a couple of close games, but we felt like we were competitive and realized that we belong there," Shelton said. "With so many returning players, I think that made it easy transitioning into this season."

The Pats brought back five every-day players from last year's lineup, along with three key pitchers, while adding some significant newcomers and having other players step into larger roles.

What ensued was a season brimming with individual and team records, including a program-best 51 victories and counting.

The Patriots (51-6) never lost a series all season. They haven't even lost back-to-back games.

"That just shows a mature group of guys that could bounce quickly from a loss," Shelton said. "So I'm proud of that. This group has been very consistent and very focused on getting back out there."

Just how dominant has Cumberlands been of late?

The Patriots own a 10-game winning streak, including eight that featured double-digit run totals. They went undefeated through their Mid-South Conference tournament and Opening Round tourney, including a 25-0 victory against Park University (Mo.) on May 13.

Among the Pats' many leaders is catcher Charlie Muniz, who "has broken just about every record we have."

Muniz already has records for single-season home runs (34), career home runs, single-season RBI (74) and career hits — and he still has another year of eligibility remaining.

But it doesn't stop there.

Every full or part-time member of the lineup is batting over .300 and five players have double-figure home runs.

Some standouts include senior outfielder Evan St. Claire (.420 average); nine-hole hitter Caden Petrey (25 home runs); and Max Harper, last year's conference player of the year in the MSC.

Guys like those up and down the lineup have helped Cumberlands rank in the top two in the NAIA in nearly every major hitting category.

No other NAIA team is close to Cumberland's 141 home runs this season (Kansas Wesleyan is next at 127).

The pitching isn't too shabby either. Top starters Avila Cesar (12-0, 2.66 ERA) and Knicko Billings (9-0, 3.21) have combined for 213 strikeouts this year. Both were contributors on last year's Series team, too.

Two more factoids: The Patriots are 6-0 in ranked contests this season and winners of the prestigious midseason Warner Invitational.

For the returners, they also have one thing they didn't have last year — experience playing at Harris Field for the World Series.

"I would say we've got a humble group of guys because they're well aware it can end in a heartbeat," Shelton said. "A pitcher that's on and kind of has your number and that can change your season. We haven't taken any of it for granted."

> Cumberlands

Location: Williamsburg, Ky.

Nickname: Patriots

Coach: Brad Shelton (23rd season)

Season record: 51-6

Rank in final NAIA poll: No. 3

How qualified: Won Williamsburg Bracket

Number of appearances; best finish: Second; went 0-2 in 2023

> Juice (out of five stars)

STARTERS: «««« 1/2

With a combined 21-0 record, nobody has figured out how to stop the Patriots' top-two hurlers, Avila Cesar and Knicko Billings. The duo have combined for a whopping 213 strikeouts.

RELIEVERS: «««« 1/2

Ten pitchers sport sub-.400 ERAs, so there are plenty of bullpen options. Closer Chipper Korbacher broke the program saves record this season.


No Series squad owns a fielding percentage better than the Patriots' mark of .974, which is tied for No. 3 in the NAIA. Anything hit up the middle is likely to be stopped by shortstop Alec Gonzalez or second baseman Ben Snapp.

HITTING: «««««

When a team's nine-hole hitter (Caden Petrey) owns 25 home runs, that's a pretty good sign of a solid hitting group. The Pats rank No. 1 in the NAIA in home runs (141), No. 1 in slugging percentage (.670), No. 2 in batting average (.366) and No. 2 in hits (702).


Possibly this team's only weakness is its dismal No. 185 ranking in stolen bases. Or maybe Cumberlands just prefers extra-base hits over risky steal attempts.


One year after going 0-2 in their first Series, these Patriots have no desire to leave Lewiston anytime soon.