One National Christian College Athletic Association national championship, two NCCAA Mid-East Regional titles, and 135 wins in four seasons.
Bluefield College head baseball coach Mike White knows none of that was possible without the contributions of seven seniors, all of whom were honored on Saturday afternoon at Bowen Field.
“They have allowed us to get where we’re at,” White said. “With their hard work and their commitment to what we’re trying to do, they have allowed us to grow.”
The winningest class in Bluefield program history contributed to a doubleheader split with Milligan (17-9, 29-18), with the Rams (34-13, 16-9) winning the opener 8-6, and then falling 11-4 in the finale.
“It’s hard when two good clubs lock up,” White said. “It’s usually the one that makes the mistakes, the other one is going to win.
“That is kind of what happened today in both of them.”
Those clubs will meet today in a single game at Bowen Field, a contest that will determine final seedings for the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament, slated for May 7-12 in Kingsport, Tenn.
“Depending on what happens tomorrow, one will finish third and the other will finish fourth,” Milligan head coach Nathan Meade said.
“I think it is going to be a very competitive tournament, I really do. I think it’s going to be one of the better tournaments we have had in a long time.”
After dropping the opener, Milligan wasted no time jumping on Bluefield starting pitcher Andy Podolak, putting up five runs in the third to take a 6-1 lead. That was, ultimately, all the runs the Buffaloes would need.
“Mike has got a good ball team, he does things right, those guys can swing the bats with the best of them,” Meade said. “We knew that coming in here, we’re going to have to play our “A” game, it was just a hard-fought game today.
“They kind of lit it up in the first game and then we were fortunate enough to score some runs in the second game, but Mike has got a great team.”
Devin Good answered a Brett Maddox run-scoring double in the first with a triple of his own, scoring on a ground ball out from Travis Weaver to knot the score at 1-1.
Good, who is receiving interest from a few Major League clubs in anticipation of next month’s draft — including the Royals — said it wasn’t hard for the Rams to focus on a second game after winning the opener on what was a hot spring afternoon.
“Not really, it ain’t hard,” Good said. “We just let that one go. We can’t get it back so we’ve just got to come out the next game like it’s the first game.”
“Nathan has got a good ball club,” White added. “We made a couple of mistakes there and let them get going and we never really got going until late and then we ran out of innings, but they’ve got a good club.”
From the third on, it was all Milligan, which was led by Maddox, who had four hits and drove in five runs. The Buffs finished with 13 hits, including two apiece from Dustin Ford, Eric Oxley and Todd Caldwell. Ford also had three hits in the opening game loss.
“Brett is coming along, he is just a freshman, he’s got lot of maturing to do, but he’s made strides,” said Meade, who was ejected for arguing that Good, who was awarded first base in the fifth inning after being hit by a pitch, had actually fouled the pitch off. “As long as he just keeps improving he is going to be all right.”
Milligan pitchers Shawn Ray and Mike Gallo held the Rams to just six hits, including a triple and single by Good, and a double and single from Andrew Weaver.
“Shawn threw a good ball game,” Meade said. “You are not going to shut them out, but anytime you can control these guys and keep it in check and give yourself a chance to win the ball game, that is all you can ask for from your guys.”
Bluefield did take the opener, led by K.J. Sobolewski, who had three hits, including a solo home run and an RBI double. One of the seniors for the Rams, he was the first recruit in White’s tenure with the Rams.
“That is one is tough for me, but it has been fun to watch him grow,” said White, whose seniors were honored with a ceremony between games. “It’s kind of like his mother said, ‘Wow, four years have flown by’ and it really has.”
“It hasn’t hit me yet, but I’m pretty sure it will hit me,” added Good, “but overall (the ceremony) felt pretty good.”
Travis Weaver was a home run short of the cycle in the opener, and drove in two runs, while Tony Singleton collected three hits. Billy Funk added a two-run single for the Rams.
The regular season will conclude today, with the AAC tourney slated to start Friday at Hunter-Wright Stadium. Ultimately, being seeded third or fourth isn’t all that big a deal to White.
“Not really, you’re playing for a number in a bracket,” White said. “We beat 1, 2, and 3 in the league so we know we can play with them, we feel comfortable with whatever we do.”
Only the AAC tournament champion will get an automatic berth to the NAIA nationals. The rest will have to hope for an at-large bid, something that didn’t happen last season for the Rams.
Good knows what the Rams must do to make sure they get that chance in his final season at Bluefield.
“Absolutely, we’ve got to get hot,” Good said. “It’s going to be whoever gets hot is going to win it all, that’s basically what we have to do.”
As for what the Rams must do when those seven seniors have played their final games at Bluefield, White acknowledged that there is work to be done.
“Now my job and coach (Danny) Flores’ job is to go out and find kids with like mindsets that are going to come in and continue what they have started here,” White said. “But, it has been fun to watch these seniors.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
at Bowen Field
Milligan........105 202 1 — 11 13 2
Bluefield......100 210 0 — 4 6 2
Shawn Ray, Mike Gallo (6) and Matt Lyle. Andy Podolak, Mike Newton (2) and K.J. Sobolewski. W—Ray; L—Podolak. HR—none.