Buffs figure to contend for AAC title

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   With senior leadership in abundance on his squad, Milligan head baseball coach Danny Clark believes this could be a special season for the Buffaloes.
   The 'Buffs should be a threat to win the Appalachian Athletic Conference title after finishing third last season with a 28-25 overall record.
   "This should be our year to win," Clark said. "This is the first the first year that I can actually say that we should do more than win the conference. We should win the region. I'm putting a lot of heat on these guys from the standpoint that with 15 seniors you should win. I feel like the talent is there."
   The cupboard is definitely not bare at Milligan, and it starts with an AAC Player-of-the-Year candidate in outfielder Scott Shealy.
   "He has set basically every single-season record here at Milligan except for home runs," Clark said. "He will be the first person to have a chance to be first team All-Conference all four years."
   A couple of local products will be counted on in the outfield. Former Elizabethton High Standouts Ben Whittemore and Pat Gould should have big seasons for the Buffs.
   Whittemore was one of the leaders on the team last year in hitting, while Gould returns to the program after a one-year absence.
   "They're both back and they've been with me for four years now," Clark said. "I expect a lot from both of them. Obviously, they've got a little bit of added pressure, because we're all three from Elizabethton. I expect a little more out of them. Whittemore had 11 game-winning hits last year.
   That's huge I think. He hit something like .330. And Pat had very good sophomore and junior years, so I feel like him getting back into the lineup is definitely going to help us, especially because he can run and he's the best defensive outfielder I have."
   Ryan Dunn and Jesse Dannemiller will platoon in right field, while Jacob McAllister should also see plenty of time in Milligan's deep outfield.
   Jason Torres and Nathan Chandler will be the catchers. Chandler is a junior college transfer that Clark is very high on.
   "We're really expecting a lot from him," Clark said.
   Freshman David Rusaw will start at first base, while Nathan Meade will man second base.
   Brad Hitch returns as the starting shortstop, while former Science Hill standout Dustin Price has become one of the top third basemen in the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
   Price was named Freshman-of-the-Year in the league last season.
   Price was rumored to be transferring last year, but Clark is glad there was nothing to it.
   "Dustin Price is going nowhere unless I go somewhere," Clark said. "I'm sure to say that. Dustin Price in my opinion could be the best hitter that has come through here. He's got pro potential and that's a plus."
   Richard Markland and Keith Hawkins will be the designated hitters.
   On the mound, Clark had to replace his opening day starter in the AAC Tournament with Chris Gambill leaving school over the summer, but Clark is very confident that the Buffaloes will be just fine pitching.
   "Chris leaving did hurt us, but I got lucky," Clark said. "I went and signed two junior college pitchers with his money."
   6-8, 250 Aaron Wallus and Chad Davis are the pitchers that Clark signed that should help the Milligan bullpen tremendously.
   Two-time All-Conference pitcher Dustin Barrett will open the Milligan rotation. Barrett lacks eight wins from having the school record.
   Brad Zachritz and Matt Simmons will be the two and three pitchers. Todd Speas will be the No. 4 pitcher for Milligan.
   McAllister, Rob Maynard and Chris Shockley will join Wallus and Davis as go-to-guys in the Milligan bullpen.
   Clark sees Tennessee Wesleyan, Brevard and Union as Milligan's biggest threats in the AAC, with Bluefield possibly being a sleeper.
   Clark hopes as the season begins on Wednesday at home against Mars Hill, the real bad winter weather that is expected to continue will eventually pay dividends for his team when all the make-up games start.
   "The bad weather in my opinion is going to help us, because when you start to play five or six conference games, that's where the depth of the pitching is going to come in."
   Clark will be assisted this year once again by Ray Smith, who also serves as the school's athletic director and as manager of the Elizabethton Twins Appalachian League team.