Buffs plot course for  next year

With the 2002 season in the books, head coach Danny Clark's focus now becomes the 2003 campaign as the Milligan College baseball squad faces the challenges ahead.
   The Buffs will lose just six seniors from a squad that finished the regular season with a flourish to end the season with a 27-27 mark (13-9, Appalachian Athletic Conference), as Clark continues to re-build this program to it's former greatness.
   "With what we were up against going into the tournament, with (Dustin) Barrett out and (Brad) Zachritz not up to par, I saw us more building for the future than winning anything this year," Clark said. "It would have been tough to go much further than we did considering our pitching depth."
   Of the six seniors that will graduate Milligan College, just three of those were starters, and only two of those were what could be described as 'impact players.' Catcher David Hilton (.329, 3 HRs, 37 RBI) and Chris Archer (.311, 2 HRs, 33 RBI) will be the hardest for Clark to replace.
   "Hilton has been a mainstay for us over the past few seasons," said Clark. "He seemed to always come through in the clutch, and Archer was a guy that hit in the high 300 range, so those two will definitely be missed. Not that the others won't be, but for what they bring to the team, those two brought a lot."
   Freshman left-hander Chris Gambill turned in a solid if not spectacular first season at Milligan, winning five and losing five, with an earned run average of 4.20. Gambill gave Clark 56.2 innings on the hill and racked up 43 strikeouts while walking just 26, but seemed to run out of gas late in the season, and was shelled by King in the AAC tournament.
   What the Buffs return is what has Clark excited. Scott Shealy, who set Milligan hit and runs scored records this season will return for his senior year, as will Ben Whittemore and Dustin Price will be just a sophomore next year.
   "It's always nice to have your three leading hitters coming back," commented Clark. "All of our pitching returns, and we have a couple of Juco kids coming in that I am excited about."
   The first of these is Nathan Chandler, a catcher who will step right in for Hilton, and the second is David Rusaw. Chandler is from Surry J.C. and Clark said of him, "I expect him to step right into the number three or four hole and be productive. He could also be our closer, as he throws in the 87-88 mph range consistently."
   Rusaw -- from Longmont J.C. in Colorado -- is seen as an ideal number two hitter and will play left field and first base. Both are termed 'quality players' by Clark.
   Barrett will return for his senior season after sitting out the latter of stages of this past season with a sore arm, but Clark says there is nothing to worry about with Barrett saying, "He had an MRI and they found no damage. He may have an arthoscopic procedure to clean out the elbow but that's about it."
   Barrett finished 4-3 with a 4.53 ERA in 63.1 innings pitched, but Barrett has the stuff to be the ace of any squad.
   "Barrett may have overthrown last summer, and that probably contributed to some of his problems," said Clark. "Overall we need to find more pitchers, you never have enough good ones."
   To that end Milligan signed prep star Isaac Shade out of Stockbridge High School in Stockbridge, Ga. Shade is a lefty with good stuff, but Clark reasons the Buffs still need to find two more pitchers in recruiting.
   "Immediate help is needed in that area." said Clark.
   With Shealy (.398, 6 HRs, 41 RBI) hitting in the leadoff spot, the Buffs are primed to score plenty of runs. "Shealy means everything to our offense," Clark stated. "This team feeds off him, and when he hits we all seem to hit. I think he has a future in baseball if he continues to progress like he has been."
   Shealy was once again All-AAC, and was nominated for All-American recognition once again, while Price comes off a stellar frosh season after a superb prep career at Science Hill H.S.
   "Price came over from Bernie Young's program so he is fundamentally sound," said Clark. "I have a lot of respect for Young's program, he does a great job with young players."
   If the Buffs have a dark horse player, with potential to be special Clark said that it's Nathan Meade. "In 40 at-bats Meade drove in something like 15 runs. I expect him to take over at second base next year, and I expect to see some improvement from him."
   If all goes well in the off-season, Milligan fans can expect to see improvement across the board.