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Kelly Hodge

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Streaking Buffs hope to put timid start behind them

March 20th, 2014 6:11 pm by Kelly Hodge

Streaking Buffs hope to put timid start behind them

Milligan College baseball coach Nathan Meade is starting to like what he’s seeing from his team.

The Buffs have won six in a row to improve to 12-8 on the season. They started tentatively, perhaps thinking too much.

“We have a veteran ballclub and didn’t have the type of success we were expecting early,” Meade said Thursday. “It seems like if we were pitching well, we couldn’t hit. And when we were hitting the ball, the pitching wasn’t as good.

“Once we started relaxing and letting the game come to us, we started winning.”

The Buffs were picked sixth in the Appalachian Athletic Conference preseason poll, and that’s about where they stand now. At 5-4, they’re in a three-way tie for fifth.

The team will get a good read on its progress this weekend when it hosts Reinhardt (22-9, 7-2), the co-leader in the conference.

“That’s a good measure, a good challenge right at the midpoint of the season,” said Meade. “I think we had the lowest preseason ranking in maybe 10 years, and the kids were a little irritated by that. We’ve got a chance to start proving people wrong.”

The Buffs have already posted six shutouts, including a 4-0 victory over Southern Wesleyan on Wednesday. Codie Campbell, a sophomore who played at Science Hill, got the win with six innings of work, and Corey Jenkins and Jake Howell finished up.

Luke Kirk and Hunter Carpenter each collected three hits for the Buffs, and Sam Tarlton had a two-run single. Kirk, the senior shortstop, is now hitting .382 with a team-leading 15 runs batted in.

“He’s just steady,” said Meade. “You know he’s going to give you a quality at-bat every time. A lot of guys have stepped up the last couple of weeks.”

The Buffs are collectively hitting .295. Oddly, they have just one home run in 20 games, but that’s not a stat that concerns their coach.

“We preach to these guys to just get on base and let things happen,” said Meade. “We went into the season not expecting many homers, so I don’t read much into that.”

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The softball team has jumped out to a quick start in the conference, winning its first six games.

Of course, the Buffs haven’t seen the top teams yet. That will change on Friday when they visit Tennessee Wesleyan (5-1).

Coach Wes Holly thinks his team is starting to come around along with the weather.

“We’ve played the fewest games in the conference (15),” said Holly. “It’s just been hard to get out, and what time we’ve had, we’ve been playing games. We haven’t had much practice time.”

Milligan is 7-8 overall, with all eight losses coming against NCAA Division II competition. The Buffs were picked fourth in the AAC.

“Last year we were picked fourth and wound up playing for the championship in the tournament,” said Holly, who is in his 26th season at Milligan. “I never do pay much attention to preseason polls.”

Jessica Wheelock, a sophomore who played at Daniel Boone, is batting .375. That’s the highest average among hitters with at least 30 at-bats.

Natalie Sheffey, who also played at Boone and stared her college career at Carson-Newman, is hitting .300.

Kimberly Robinson leads the team with four homers and 14 runs batted in. The freshman is also showing promise as a pitcher.

For now, the ace of the staff continues to be Chancli Connatser. The senior from Maryville is 4-2 with a 3.67 ERA.

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The men’s basketball team secured a local talent this week with the signing of Unicoi County’s Nic Chambers.

The 6-5 forward averaged 10.1 points and 8.3 rebounds as a senior for the Blue Devils. He was an all-conference pick in the Three Rivers.

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Milligan had the men’s and women’s tennis players of the week in the conference.

Rachel Hodas went unbeaten in four No. 1 singles matches, losing just four games, and combined with Kayla Kelly for a pair of doubles wins. Hodas is a sophomore from Knoxville.

On the men’s side, Fernando Gonzalez was also 4-0 in singles. He’s a sophomore from Chile.

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