Bulldogs sweep Buffs

By Allen LaMountain
ASST. SPORTS EDITOR
awlamountain@starhq.com

   A much-anticipated weekend for the Milligan College Buffaloes -- as number-one seeded Tennessee Wesleyan (34-3, 16-1 AAC) came to visit -- proved just one thing conclusively. And that is watch out what you wish for, because you might get it.
   The Buffs (24-17, 12-7 AAC) had hoped for a sweep of Saturday's twin-bill at Anglin Field over the third-ranked team in NAIA baseball.Instead, they were themselves swept away by 5-3 and 12-1 tallies.
   A sweep by the Buffs would have improved their positioning in the Appalachian Athletic Conference -- perhaps even clinching second place and an automatic bid to the regional. But after the dust settled Milligan was left with the prospect of having to sweep their final three games on the road to take the coveted second spot.
   "We put ourselves in the position where now we have to win out, on the road," said Milligan head coach Danny Clark. "Playing against the number one seed, a sweep would have put us in good position for that second spot and a place in the regional. I have to tip my hat to them, especially their pitching staff, because they did what they needed to."
   In the opener Todd Speas took the mound for Milligan and for seven innings kept the high-powered Bulldog lineup at bay with a good selection of off-speed pitches. Speas hurled seven solid frames, giving up just three hits and two runs, but it wasn't enough as 'Dogs hurler Jonathan Ulsh was also pitching well.
   Speas and Ulsh matched zeroes through six frames before the Buffs began a rally in the last of the seventh. Nathan Chandler singled sharply to leftfield and was sacrificed to second on a bunt by Nathan Meade.
   At that point Wesleyan head coach Ashley Lawson went to his bullpen for right-hander Matt Norfleet, who retired both Brad Hitch and Jesse Dannemiller to send the contest into extra innings.
   Ulsh went six and one-third innings while surrendering no runs on seven hits. He struck out seven and walked none.
   The Bulldogs finally broke through against Speas in the top of the eighth as Dusty Hammett opened with an infield single and John Henderson walked. Jason Howard roped a single to centerfield to break up the pitching duel and get Wesleyan on the scoreboard and Clark went to his pen for righty Chris Shockley.
   "Speas did a tremendous job keeping us off balance," said Lawson. "But as the day went on I could see that we were starting to hit him better, and I told the guys to carry that approach into the second game."
   An error opened the floodgates for another Bulldog run when Brandon Laws singled to deliver Henderson, but Shockley retired Bronson Gross to end the Wesleyan threat.
   With their backs against the wall, Milligan delivered two runs in the last of the eighth to extend matters at least one more frame as Scott Shealy walked and went to second when David Rusaw reached on an infield error.
   Dustin Price sacrificed both runners over 90 feet and Shealy scored when Norfleet threw a wild pitch. Ryan Dunn's sacrifice fly knotted the game at 2-2.
   Neither team scored in the ninth, but Shockley did a masterful job of keeping Wesleyan off the scoreboard as he pitched out of a bases-loaded one-out jam by getting Wesleyan's top hitter Howard to hit into a double play.
   In the 10th Shockley finally caved in as Braden Conner and Laws each singled with one away, and Gross smashed a three-run homer to left to give the 'Dogs a 5-2 lead.
   "At that point I felt a little more comfortable," said Lawson. "Our All-American (Norfleet) had let them back into the game, but when Gross touched off on that long ball I didn't think they would come back on us again."
   The Buffs did manage to push a run across in the last of the tenth as Richard Markland and Price hit back-to-back doubles with two outs bringing the tying run to the plate, but Dunn was caught looking at strike three.
   Game 2
   Tennessee Wesleyan 12
   Milligan 1
   The nightcap was a disaster from the outset as the Buffs appeared disinterested, committing five errors, and not collecting a hit until the sixth frame against Bulldog starter Henderson.
   Wesleyan plated two runs in the first, three in the second - with two runs scoring on a towering shot over the rightfield fence by Henderson - and the 'Dogs onslaught continued with two more runs in the third frame to chase Milligan starter Jake McAllister and give Wesleyan an 8-0 lead.
   "We did a lot of sitting this week, with two rainouts," said Lawson. "Maybe that's why we started so slowly, but once we caught fire and got more aggressive at the plate, we looked more like ourselves. One of this teams' best attributes is it's mental toughness."
   The Bulldogs rapped out 11 hits against three Milligan pitchers, and a disappointed Clark could only say afterward, "If we want to be considered a team on the same level as Wesleyan we have to play like it. You have to find a way to raise your level of play and be that type of team. A sweep would have put ourselves into a great position to get a bye into the regional, and we can still get there, but it's a harder road now."
   Jason Torres broke up Henderson's no-hit bid with a single to right, and Rusaw plated him one-out later with a double to center, but Henderson finished the contest without giving up another run.
   "I had a good curveball going and that was my out pitch," said Henderson. "My curve had a lot of movement today and I got great run support and we got on top of them early. I think that was the key."