Whittemore, Gambill make presence felt for Buffaloes

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Like a window that has just been cleaned, former local prep standouts Benji Whittemore and Chris Gambill have shined brightly this season for the Milligan College Buffalo baseball team.
   Whittemore has been doing some major damage at the plate for the Buffaloes, while Gambill has become a force on the mound in his first season of college baseball.
   Whittemore played his high school baseball at Elizabethton, while Gambill was a standout at Johnson County.
   Whittemore has been on fire this season. He is currently hitting .380 on the year.
   Whittemore, a junior, believes his hitting has really improved over the last few seasons.
   "The last few years I've made strides," Whittemore said. "I've worked hard with coach (Ray) Smith and coach (Danny) Clark.
   Whittemore thinks that working with last year's Milligan seniors has prepared him for his big season.
   "Working with Danny Breece and Ben Berry helped me out a lot," Whittemore said. "They always went to the cage, and taught me a good work ethic. I've been getting some good pitches, and I've been lucky enough to get a good swing on it."
   Whittemore began his college career at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. He soon realized that was not the place for him.
   "I got down there, and the school was not a good fit," Whittemore said. "Things just didn't work out. It's was tough to leave friends, but I just didn't enjoy the school overall."
   Whittemore transferred to Milligan, and he found things to be a lot better.
   "I like it here," Whittemore said. "Milligan has been a very positive influence on me. It's a good place with fine people. It's a very good environment.
   "This place puts everything in perspective. At Milligan, God and your family comes first. At other schools that aren't Christian oriented, you can get easily distracted and baseball takes over."
   Whittemore is glad he can play in his hometown, where the people he's been around all his life can watch him perform.
   "I love being back here," Whittemore said. "Before the stuff happened with Harold Ellis I talked to him a lot. It's good being around people who have influenced you a lot."
   Another person who has influenced Whittemore throughout his life is Milligan head coach Danny Clark.
   "We know him well," Whittemore said. "It's a treat for me to play with somebody who has helped me along the way."
   Whittemore is looking to continue his hot streak, and hopefully get the pro scouts attention before he graduates.
   "That's been a dream of mine," Whittemore said. "I would love to go if I got the opportunity. Chances are I probably won't get the opportunity. If I happen to get the chance I would love it, but that's not a big thought on my mind right now.
   Whittemore treasures his baseball career.
   "I would never trade anything I've done," Whittemore said. "I love baseball. The guys are great, and it's a good place to play."
   While Whittemore's career is in full swing, Gambill is just starting to hit his stride as a Buffalo.
   After a slow start, Gambill has become a legitimate threat every time he goes to the mound.
   Gambill pitched a two-hit shutout over UVA-Wise last weekend. A week before that, he pitched a one-hitter against Alice Lloyd.
   "I'm starting to get confident," Gambill said. "I just wasn't used to the type of hitters. In high school I pretty much threw the ball. I have to select my spots now."
   Gambill believes those two outings gave him a boost.
   "If nothing else, it's good to know I can get outs when I need them," Gambill said. "It's helped me to know that when I do need an out I can reach back and get it."
   Gambill, who was the Elizabethton Star's Player-of-the-Year last season at Johnson County, can tell that it is a different world now.
   "I can tell that a lot more with strikeouts," Gambill said. "In high school I could reach back and get him. Now I have to be conscious of one through nine. I just can't worry about three, four and five like I did in high school."
   Gambill has had to work his arm back into shape after hurting it before he came to Milligan.
   The road was long, but now Gambill is almost back to full strength.
   "I'm getting my fastball back," Gambill said. "Coach Clark has worked it back into shape. In the fall it started feeling better, and now it's started feeling good."
   Gambill has definitely had help in his first year at Milligan.
   Gambill says he has learned a lot from the older pitchers, and takes any advice that they give.
   "They've helped me not so much in mechanics, but in the mindset that I need to go out there," Gambill said. "They've given me the kind of attitude I need to have in games."
   Gambill has had something to prove after being snubbed by Division I schools in the recruiting process. Despite leading Northeast Tennessee in strikeouts last season, other pitchers from bigger schools were recruited more heavily than Gambill.
   Gambill feels like he was overlooked, but is happy to be at Milligan.
   "A lot of it probably had to do with location," Gambill said. "I loved Johnson County, but it's not exactly a hot spot for baseball. I still didn't get looked at like I would have been in say Johnson City or somewhere else pretty big, but I like it here pretty good. I'm happy with the choice I made. Coach Clark was the reason I came here. He cared about me as a player and a person."
   Gambill is hoping to continue his progress in the next few years.
   Gambill is also looking towards the future, and could quite possibly end up getting drafted or playing in the major leagues someday.
   And Gambill believes he is with people that can help make it possible.
   "I love the game of baseball," Gambill said. "That's the main reason I'm still playing. I would rather be making a living playing baseball than working somewhere. It's an easier way to make a living. I think Coach Clark and Coach Smith are helping me. They're giving me insight to make myself better to get to the next level."