King gets last say vs. Buffs

By Allen LaMountain

   JOHNSON CITY -- With a profound lack of pitching hampering the chances of both ball clubs, the King College Tornado got just enough on the mound to hold off Milligan College at Cardinal Park Wednesday afternoon, and send the Buffaloes into the losers bracket of the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament.
   King (18-34) came away with a 15-12 win in 10 innings, in a see-saw contest that neither team was ever out of, but that neither could fully put away.
   "Both sides kept battling one another, and we had to keep coming back," said King skipper Craig Kleinmann. "We would just never say die, and we got some clutch performances out there."
   Milligan (26-27) jumped out in front early to stake freshman starter Chris Gambill to an early lead as Scott Shealy hit the second pitch he saw over the fence in left field, giving the Buffs a quick 1-0 lead.
   No lead was ever secure in this game, however, as King stormed back, scoring two runs on just two hits in the top of the second to take a 2-1 lead.
   A 25-minute delay may have hurt Gambill, as he was sharp in the first inning but after the delay seemed to have lost something on his fastball. The delay occurred when home plate umpire John Conley was struck on the hand by a pitch, and soon after, went into shock. The paramedics arrived and Conley was transported to Johnson City Medical Center.
   "Whenever someone goes into shock it's serious, you can die from it," said Milligan trainer Cary Targett. "We took no chances in calling the EMT's in, and hopefully he'll be all right."
   Pat McKleveen's beaning, when play resumed, loaded the bases for King and a single by Josh Mitchell plated two runs for the Tornado.
   It was Milligan's turn to ride the see-saw in the last of the second as King starter Tito Rodrieguez walked four batters in the frame and a sacrifice fly by Brad Hitch saw the Buffs take a 3-2 lead after two innings.
   King first baseman Dirk Kleinmann struck a two-run homer over the fence in right field, after Gambill -- who struggled with his control -- walked Berry with two outs before Kleinmann's blast.
   Gambill pitched six and two-thirds innings, giving up seven runs (five earned) on six hits. He walked three and struck out none.
   "We pitched behind (in the count) all day," said Milligan head coach Danny Clark. "At this stage of the season, the bats have caught up with the pitchers so you can't afford to fall behind these hitters like we did."
   The Buffs got single runs in the fourth and fifth frames to take a 5-4 lead, as Gambill settled down in the middle innings, setting King down without a run in the fourth, fifth and sixth frames.
   Gambill finally caved in the seventh as King struck for three runs and knocked Gambill out of the box. With one out Vince Bush reached on catcher's interference and stole second. Daniel Ott walked but Jimmy Smith popped up for the second out.
   When asked if Gambill had just run out of gas, Clark replied: "With Chris, more than anything, he doesn't allow himself to go to work mentally. He loses himself mentally, but with maturity that part of his game will come."
   Smith would be the last man Gambill retired, as the lefty then was struck for a double by Berry that plated Bush and Ott and then a single by Kleinmann that scored Berry. Clark then summoned Rob Maynard from the bullpen and he retired Steve Holland to end the frame.
   Maynard fared none too well in holding the King bats in check, though, as the Tornado struck for three more runs in the eighth to take a 10-5 lead for reliever Nick Hensley. A triple by Mitchell, and a two-bagger by Smith in the eighth were the big blows in the Tornado eighth.
   "I thought that, and I hate it when I tell myself 'we'll be all right now,' because it never works out that easily," said Craig Kleinmann. "All the guys did a great job. It was unbelievable, I love it when they do that."
   Milligan showed some resilience in the eighth as the Buffs knocked Hensley and King's third pitcher, Chad Harold, around for seven runs to take a 12-10 lead into the ninth.
   The Buffs sent 12 batters to the plate in the frame and at one point eight consecutive Milligan hitters reached base. Ben Whittemore's single tied the game at 10-10, and a bases-loaded walk to David Hilton forced in the lead run. A base knock by Todd Speas gave Milligan some insurance.
   It was an insurance policy that Milligan pitchers Chris Shockley and Jacob McAllister could not cash in on however, as the King bats were awake now and eager to feast on the deliveries of whomever was on the hill in a black uniform.
   "We take the lead, then go right back out there and give up a leadoff walk," Clark said. "You can't have that from the guys in your bullpen. They have to come in and throw strikes, and make the batters hit their way on."
   In the ninth King plated a pair of runs to knot the score at 12-12 as Holland knocked Shockley from the box with a run-scoring double and McKlveen greeted McAllister with a rope that fell for a hit to plate Holland.
   Smith took a McAllister offering to dead center for a double to lead off the 10th, and Berry smashed a moon shot over the scoreboard in left-center field to give King a 14-12 lead. Singles by Kleinmann, McKlveen and pinch hitter Tony Prinza gave King its final margin of victory.
   "I saw five straight curveballs in that at-bat, and I was able to keep my hands back on one of them," said Berry, whose day included a home run, two doubles and four runs batted in. "This is how we have played all season. Score a few runs then give up some runs, but we always feel that we can come back, and today it worked out for us."