Buffs heating up for stretch run

By Allen LaMountain

Star Staff

   Milligan College's 6-3 loss on Sunday to UVa-Wise put the Buffaloes into third place in the Appalachian Athletic Conference standings with an 8-5 conference mark, but the Buffs are showing signs of starting to get hot at the right time as the conference tournament nears.
   "We are grouped in there with a couple teams," said Milligan head coach Danny Clark. "There are about three or four teams all lumped togther with about four to six conference losses. This is a big weekend for us, battling for first or second place right here."
   The Cavaliers and Tennessee-Wesleyan along with Montreat are the three teams clustered at the top, with Montreat standing at 9-3, Tennessee-Wesleyan 9-4 and UVa-Wise 9-5.
   Milligan -- at 8-5 stands a half game behind the Cavs.
   Milligan still has 11 games remaining (six in conference) and could still put on a push for the top spot in the AAC.
   The Buffs have a game with Carson-Newman on the road and a home contest against Mars Hill College, before taking on Virginia Intermont for a three-game set this Saturday and Sunday.
   The Cobras have struggled this season with a 6-21 overall mark to go along with a 4-7 AAC record, so Milligan stands a good chance to keep pace with the leaders with a good showing there.
   The key to the season could come down to the last six conference games, in which Milligan hosts Montreat on April 20 and 21 in a three-game set, and a three-game set on the road April 26 and 27 at Brevard College.
   A key for the Buffs will be if they continue to get strong pitching efforts like the ones shown in the last few games by Chris Gambill and Dustin Barrett.
   Gambill comes off back-to-back shutout wins and now stands 3-3 on the season with an ERA under 3.79, and looks to be on his way to being the type of dominating pitcher he was at Johnson County High.
   "I'm starting to get to know the hitters better," said Gambill. "When I first got started this season I was nervous, and tried to throw everything past hitters. I soon realized that you can't do that, you have to learn to be more of a pitcher."
   Barrett's ERA is a bit higher than he is capable of putting up, but he had a strong outing on Saturday in a 3-2 win over the Cavaliers that coach Clark called, "Barrett's best outing of the season. He has been my hottest pitcher the last three years and could be showing signs of returning to that form."
   Last season Barrett carried the Buffs down the stretch as Milligan barely had three healthy bodies to throw out there on the mound, but Barrett stepped up in the late going and helped th Buffs win the AAC crown.
   Brad Zachritz (3-3, 5.47), Jacob McAllister (2-2, 3.97) Matt Simmons (1-2, 4.82) and Josh Ramsey (2-3, 4.13) will be the arms to carry the Buffs as far as they will go.
   Milligan boasts some solid hitting in Scott Shealy, who carries a .417 batting average, Dustin Price .344, Ben Whittemore .380 and David Hilton .354.
   When you add the power of Jeremy Christian (four homers, 20 RBI) to the mix it could prove explosive down the stretch, especially if the Buffs pitching and defense do the jobs they are capable of.
   The last few weeks of the season should bring plenty of action and if the Buffs get hot, it could be their ticket to the National Tournament.