Led by father-son coaching duo among key ingredients in Milligan softball program

By Rebecca Pierson
STAR Staff

   The Lady Buffalo softball team came only two games shy of the national title this season, and finished with an Appalachian Athletic Conference championship. They finished 43-16 overall, and 22-6 in the AAC.
   In order to play at this kind of level, three essential ingredients must be in place: dedicated, hard-working players; a head coach with enough experience and ability for leadership; and an assistant coach who is just as dedicated and capable as the head coach.
   At Milligan, all of these ingredients are in place.
   It takes a dedicated team of coaches who know each other inside and out, and who can trust in each others' ability to lead the team. There is no better guarantee of this than having a coaching staff that is a father and son duo.
   Coach Holly closed out his 17th season as head of the Lady Buffs in 2004 by seizing the Appalachian Athletic Conference Coach of the Year award. He holds a career record at Milligan of 451-288, has been a 3-time TVAC Coach of the Year, District 24 Coach of the Year, and Softball Coaches Association Region 3 Coach of the Year.
   Coach Holly has himself played in the national tournament, as well as coached the 1992 Lady Buff team to its first softball national tournament appearance.
   Assistant coach Wes Holly Jr. is in his second year, but the Milligan campus is in no way a new campus for him. He often helped out with the team during his father's long career at the school, and Milligan is his alma mater.
   Holly Jr. has played in the ASA major open and the Class A men's fastpitch softball league for 12 years. Half of that time, he was a teammate of his father, and his brother Robbie.
   "Ironically, to have your son as your assistant coach, it is pretty gratifying," Holly said. "I guess that we are the only father-son duo that I know of in the region. Wes Jr. has played a lot of ball with me, and I am very happy that he is here helping me.
   "He and his brother Robbie both played with me for about six years," he said. "He has hopefully learned quite a bit from me and the experience. I am very comfortable leaving practice with him.
   "He is a very capable coach. That is a good thing to have in an assistant coach. He can really help me contribute. Wes Jr. does a great job in his skills, experience and knowledge."
   With only two graduating seniors, Shelby Banion and Ellen Stoots, the Lady Buffs are anticipated to come back strong next year. A new addition to the team next year will be incoming freshman Alicia Dick of Happy Valley High School.
   This year the Lady Buffs had four players awarded all-conference honors, including Sarah Smith, OF, of Elizabethton; Shelby Banion, IF/P, of Paris, Ky.; Traci Harrison, P/1B, of Chipley, Fl.; and Brandi Waddle, P/IF, of Telford, Tenn.
   Waddle also received the top honor in the conference -- AAC Player of the Year. Waddle notched 16 wins (18 wins the previous year) and has a .235 batting average.
   "We had a great team this year," Holly said. "The old saying that coaches are only as good as their players is true. I've been in athletics a long time. These girls work hard on the ball. They were really dedicated this year. All of their work paid off. We started five freshmen this year and have a 43-16 record. I give all of the credit to the girls."
   "We are really excited with the opportunity next year. The girls had a great year. Unfortunately, it ended two games early for us. We had Brescia of Kentucky up 2-0 in the fifth inning. But, we had a bad sixth inning."
   Brescia finished out the game with four runs, leaving the Lady Buffs at a 4-2 loss.
   They then faced off against Mid-Continent College of Ky. and lost to them 4-2 after beating them 10-4 the day before.
   "I am a little disappointed in our finish at the regional because I felt like we had a shot at the national title this year," he said. "We finished a bit short of what we wanted to this year, but we're hoping to go for it against next year."
   The team went four straight in the AAC Tournament in Bristol. They defeated Union and Tennessee-Wesleyan by 3-0 scores, then came out ahead in two close match-ups between Virginia Intermont that both ended in one-run victories.
   In all outward appearances, the Lady Buffs should be the team to beat next year.