Road doesn’t get any easier for Buffs
By Jeff Birchfield
Press Sports Writer
Three close losses over the past week have knocked the Milligan men’s basketball team from championship contender to a team simply trying to gain momentum heading into the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament.
Millligan fell to 17-10 on the season and 9-5 in the AAC after a 74-70 loss to Union on Wednesday night. It came on the heels of down-to-the-wire losses at Reinhardt and Bryan.
The bad news is the road doesn’t get any easier.
Up next is Tennessee Wesleyan, which has won 12 straight league games since dropping its season opener. The Buffs end the regular season at Point, the second-place team in the league.
“It’s not just two road games or two really good teams,” Robinson said. “You’re looking at two games against the top two teams in the conference. It’s going to be hard to get any kind of momentum right now. The Union loss hurts a lot.”
Tennessee Wesleyan features a potent offense, averaging nearly 88 points per game. Five of coach Mike Poe’s Bulldogs are averaging double figures and eight players are averaging at least 7.6 ppg.
Desmond Crisp, a senior wing, leads the way at 15.2 ppg. He’s closely followed by Tyler Burse at 14.9 ppg and Zamarius McClendon at 13.5 ppg.
“They play a pace that is hard for us to emulate in practice,” Robinson said. “With our depth, it’s especially hard for us now, losing a guy to grades and losing a guy to injury. It’s hard to continue that for 40 minutes.”
A week ago, it looked like the game would be a shootout as the Buffs have averaged nearly 80 ppg, with four players in double figures. Torian Sitton sits atop the scoring column at 14 ppg, followed by Tyler DeVault at 12.7 ppg. Mickey Woods and Cartree Pettis are each above 10 ppg.
However, the Buffs are severely missing junior guard Scott Blake. The former South Greene standout was averaging right under 10 points per game before suffering a knee injury in the Reinhardt game. The coaches believe Blake, the team’s leading 3-point shooter, would have made the difference in all three close losses.
As it’s been described, the Buffs have a lot of shot-takers, but Blake is a shot-maker.
“I don’t want to say losing Scott is devastating for us,” Robinson said. “But when somebody who can make shots, it keeps people from just staying in a zone for 40 minutes. He’s a zone-breaker and his ability to hit multiple three’s in a row stretches the defense.”
The AAC tournament starts in two week, running from Feb. 21-25.
The women’s game between Milligan and Tennessee Wesleyan is basically for the AAC regular-season championship.
Milligan won its 20th game of the season on Wednesday and improved to 13-2 in league play with Wednesday’s 75-63 win over Union.
Kayla Kelly leads the Lady Buffs in scoring at 14.6 ppg, but senior Johneshia Good has been the go-to player lately.
Good, the AAC Player of the Week a week ago, scored 32 points against Virginia Intermont, 21 against Montreat and 25 against Reinhardt and 17 against Union. The lone blemish was being held to nine points in last Saturday’s loss at Bryan.
For the season, Good has a 12.3 point average. Good’s old high school teammate and fellow senior, Jaimee Hill, is averaging 10.7 ppg.
The Wesleyan women’s team is built more on defense than the high-powered men’s team. Their strength has been holding opponents to just 53 points per contest. The game should provide a clash of styles with Milligan putting up 69 points per game.
Mother Nature has played havoc with the start of Milligan’s baseball and softball seasons.
The Buffs’ baseball team was slated to open the season Tuesday with a doubleheader hosting UVa.-Wise. Due to the rain and snow, they ended up playing a single game on Wednesday which Milligan lost 7-5. The Buffs are now scheduled to host Johnson University for a weekend series.
Milligan, which is coming off a 26-27 season, returns junior infielder Luke Kirk. He had a .400 batting average and earned NAIA All-American Honorable Mention last season.
Another impact player should be junior Corey McPherson. The former Science Hill star joins the Buffs after appearing in 51 games the last two seasons for ETSU. He hit .211 last season against NCAA Division 1 competition.
Former Happy Valley standout Ethan Fleenor is expected to lead the pitching rotation. Fleenor had a 5-4 record last season and led the Buffs with 52 strikeouts.
The Milligan softball team was supposed to open season this past Saturday at Tusculum.
Due to a frozen field, the game was rescheduled for March 24.
Then, the Lady Buffs were suppposed to play at Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday, but that game was also postponed.
Milligan, coming off a 30-21 season, will now try to start next Tuesday with a doubleheader at Mars Hill.
A trio of former Maryville stars are expected to lead the Lady Buffs.
Junior pitcher Chancli Connaster went 25-15 last season with 201 strikeouts and a 1.58 earned run average. Junior infielder Krista Lambdin had a team best .370 batting average, while showing some power with seven home runs. Senior outfielder Camille Olvey had a .358 average and led the team with 22 stolen bases. Selective at the plate, Olvey had 49 hits and 26 walks compared to only 12 walks.
All three of them were All-Conference selections last season.