Like a fighter taking an early standing eight count, Southern Wesleyan sophomore pitcher Mark Atkins looked ready for a knockout blow.
Milligan could not deliver the knockout on Wednesday afternoon however, and the young right hander picked himself up and earned a 4-2 victory at Anglin Field.
“He needed a confidence booster after his last few games,” said Southern Wesleyan head coach Mike Gillespie. “When he pitches with confidence he’s pretty good. We were able to scratch out enough hits at the end to go ahead and that’s a big key in a close ball game.”
Atkins (2-3) pitched eight full innings before giving way to Tim Cummings who earned a save in the contest.
The Buffaloes (16-19 overall) struck for a pair of runs on four hits in the last of the first and looked to have Atkins on the ropes, but he battled back and with the help of a nice changeup shut Milligan out the rest of the way.
“My changeup was really good today,” Atkins said. “I changed speed and location, and that was the big key. I just wanted to let my defense play behind me and make the plays.”
Milligan got first inning hits from leadoff hitter Wesley Jones (3-for-4), and Luke Kirk to put Buffs runners on first and second. A fly ball out from Tyree Jeffries failed to move the runners up, but third baseman Kyle Kolat singled to left to plate Jones and put runners on first and second once again.
First baseman Cory Hilton’s single to left loaded the bases and a fielder’s choice off the bat of Joe Purus gave Milligan a 2-0 lead.
“We were not able to string hits together after the first inning,” said Milligan head coach Nathan Meade. “Atkins threw a good game, but it’s our own inconsistency that’s killing us right now. We made some base running mistakes that cost us possibly two runs. You can’t make mistakes on the base paths, it kills you.”
The Warriors struck for a run against Milligan left hander Tyler Wilson as Yamil Perez took one for the team and catcher Joseph Taylor drilled a base knock to right. With runners on first and third the Warriors pulled off a double steal with both runners safe on the play and Perez scoring to make it a 2-1 game.
Wesleyan (16-22 overall) tied the game in the top of the fourth on a walk, a single by Perez (2-for-3) and an RBI ground out by first baseman Carey Rowland.
The game passed through the middle innings with neither team mounting much of a threat against the two hurlers, but Wilson’s day ended after six and Ryan Valentine pitched a scoreless seventh in relief.
Freshman Jake Watts (3-3) was given the nod in the eighth and he got into hot water right away as left fielder Thomas Floyd greeted him with a single to right. Second baseman Tyler Lollis doubled to left-center field plating Floyd with the go ahead run.
Perez moved Lollis to third with a ground ball out and Taylor plated the insurance tally with a sacrifice fly to left to give Atkins and the Warriors a 4-2 lead.
Atkins retired the Buffs in the eighth giving up a two out single to Ryan White and a walk to pinch hitter Blake Buck before getting pinch hitter Brandon Malone on strikes to end the threat.
“We didn’t make enough adjustments and let (Atkins) settle in,” said Meade. “You have to do things as a hitter to interrupt his rhythm, but we didn’t do it. We have only a short time to find a way to pull it all together. There are just four weekends left to get it done.”
In the ninth Gillespie called on Cummings to finish the job and Cummings was able to keep the Buffs off the scoreboard despite a two out double by Jeffries.
— — —
Southern Wesleyan ,4-2
So. Wesleyan 010 100 020 — 4 9 1
Milligan 200 000 000 — 2 9 1
SW: Atkins, Cummings (9) and Taylor. MC: Wilson, Valentine (7), Watts (8), Walker (9) and Clawson, Malone (9).
W – Atkins (2-3). L – Watts (3-3).