The Milligan College women’s basketball team got its draw for the NAIA National Championships and the Lady Buffs face a tall order in the opening round.
The No. 7-seeded Lady Buffs (23-9) will play with No. 2-seeded College of the Ozarks in a first-round matchup on Thursday, March 6.
Winners of the Midland Conference, the Lady Bobcats (29-4) are making their 19th appearance in the national championship tournament.
As the name the Ozarks might suggest, the Lady Bobcats have a lot of height with eight players 5-foot-10 or taller. That includes 6-foot senior center Morgan Smith, easily the team’s leading scorer at over 24 points per game.
Besides dealing with the strong play in the post, Milligan is trying to recover from the disappointment of losing to Reinhardt 61-52 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament last Friday. The outcome wasn’t a shock to head coach Rich Aubrey who saw his AAC regular-season champions battling illness and injury.
Many players were suffering with flu-like symptoms, while Kayla Kelly, the team’s leading scorer at 14.5 points per game, suffered a broken thumb the final week of the regular season. The 5-foot-9 junior played in the AAC tournament, head coach Rich Aubrey explained she was far from 100 percent with a plastic splint on her thumb.
“She ended up giving us some minutes, but she wasn’t herself offensively,” Aubrey said. “We knew that was the case going in. We also had some illness. That put us out of regular rotation and it made it difficult to compete with the upper level teams in our conference.
“We’re looking forward to getting healthy again, and getting back to our regular lineup, our regular rotation. If we do that, I feel we will be ready to go.”
Ironically, Aubrey feels a big reason for the Lady Buffs’ success in the regular season was their ability to stay healthy.
“During the season we were able to dodge some injury bullets,” Aubrey said. “It caught up with us in the conference tournament. We hope we have enough time to get healthy before we go to nationals so we can put our best foot forward.”
Success in the postseason will probably depend on the play of the Lady Buffs’ three seniors -- Johneshia Good, Jaimee Hill and Dorian Freeman.
Good, a 5-foot-7 senior, is fresh off winning the AAC Co-Player of the Year award after scoring 13.2 ppg and leading the team in both assists and steals. She scored over 20 points in nine games this season. Hill was named to an All-AAC second-team selection.
For Aubrey, it’s good to see the former Science Hill High School teammates have such success on two fronts.
“It’s been really, really good for us and good for them as well,” Aubrey said. “Any time you can get local players who can contribute, it’s good for everybody, good for our program to have the local fans around. Those kids come from a quality program at Science Hill. They’ve had great careers at Milligan and we’re really pleased they ended up with us.”
The Milligan men’s team struggled down the stretch, but gave top-seeded Tennessee Wesleyan all it could handle in the AAC semfinals.
Wesleyan pulled out an 85-83 victory after the teams traded the lead throughout the game.
Milligan, which finished the year 18-13, suffered through a five-game skid to end the regular-season, but scored a hard-fought win over Reinhardt in the opening round.
The loss to Wesleyan spelled the end of the career of senior Tyler DeVault. Thought to be a good role player coming out of Sullivan Central High School, DeVault became comfortable in a starring role by his senior season.
DeVault, a muscular 6-foot-5 post who epitomized the effort and toughness of this year’s team, averaged 13.2 points per game. He was honored back at the Buffs’ final regular-season game for surpassing the 1,000th career point mark.
It’s truly been an up and down start for the Milligan College baseball team.
The Buffs lost their season opener to UVa.-Wise before going on a seven-game winning streak concluding with sweeping a doubleheader against the same Wise team.
Since then, the Buffs (7-5) have dropped four straight.
One piece of consistency has been the play of Brandon Malone. He leads the team with a .406 batting average and 14 RBIs. Malone has collected at least one hit in nine of the Milligan’s first 12 games.