Buffs beat  odds to win AAC crown

By Matt Hill

   There's a saying that goes "Tough times don't last, but tough people do."
   This week in Johnson City, the Milligan College baseball team showed how tough it was by fighting through some adverse situations.
   The Buffaloes won five straight elimination games in two days to earn the Appalachian Athletic Conference Baseball Championship.
   The Buffs closed out their miracle run at 1 a.m. Saturday morning with a doubleheader sweep of Brevard that started in daylight on Friday evening.
   It looked like the sun was going to set on Milligan following a defeat to Brevard on Wednesday. The Buffs had to play top-seeded Tennessee Wesleyan on Wednesday night just to stay in the tournament.
   Then mother nature complicated the situation even more.
   A four-hour rain delay pushed the Tennessee Wesleyan game to 9 a.m Thursday. That meant if the Buffaloes were going to get to the championship game, they had to win three games that day to get there.
   The Buffs answered the call by nipping Wesleyan, then blowing out King and Bluefield. But their work wasn't done.
   Up next was Brevard again, and the Buffaloes had to win two straight against the Tornadoes to take it.
   After winning the first game 14-5, the Buffaloes had battled from behind in the second game to tie it at 3-3.
   As you all know by now, Dustin Price ended the miraculous run with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to secure the Buffs a championship.
   I repeat all that information to get across to you what a run it was. A lot of teams would have given up in that situation, but like one of our headlines said, there was no quit in the Buffaloes.
   Price wasn't the only hero. Chad Davis and Rob Maynard pitched beautifully in relief during the tournament, and if it hadn't been for them and a heroic effort by the entire Milligan pitching staff, this might not have been possible.
   Other Buffaloes hit the ball extremely well, including local standouts Ben Whittemore, Pat Gould, Scott Shealy and Will Little.
   Milligan head coach Danny Clark deserves good marks for keeping his team in good spirits with all the adversity it went through this week.
   Milligan had the talent to win the conference tournament, there was no question about it. But we found out this week that it had the heart as well.
   Up next for the Buffaloes is the NAIA Regionals. If the Buffs get in a bind like they did this week up there, don't count them out.
   That was proven this week.
   One thing about Milligan's baseball program is that there are a lot of kids from Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia on the team. But the other AAC schools, some farther away, also have them.
   I feel there may be more baseball talent in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia than any other sport. Not all kids can play Division I and quite frankly, some get passed up by mid-majors and end up being steals for smaller schools.
   Local stars from our coverage area playing in this week's ACC Tournament include the following.
   Milligan: Ben Whittemore (Elizabethton), Pat Gould (Elizabethton)
   King: Jon Minton (Unaka)
   Alice Lloyd: Nicholas Perkins (Johnson County)
   As I was watching the AAC Baseball Tournament, I stood amazed at the quality of baseball in the league.
   I really feel teams like Milligan and Tennessee Wesleyan could beat a lot of Southern Conference schools. Also, King's Andrew Belcher is probably one of the top three or four players I've seen this year, and I've watched Tennessee play.
   They usually play this tournament at Cardinal Park every year. It's worth making the 10-minute trip from Elizabethton and paying just a few bucks to watch.