KINGSPORT — On a night that was cold as ice, Milligan’s bats were hot blooded.
The top-seeded Lady Buffs opened AAC softball tournament play in decisive fashion, topping Columbia College 9-1 in five innings at Domtar Park.
Milligan took advantage of six hits, a handful of walks and a hit batter in its scoring efforts. A two-run double from Krista Lambdin keyed a three-run third, while a grand slam home run off the bat of Camille Olvey put the game away in the fourth.
“We had two nice productive innings there,” said Milligan coach Wes Holly. “Camille gets the grand slam and Krista had a nice hit and knocked them in. That was basically the difference in the ball game right there. It was a good team effort.”
Milligan faces Virginia Intermont, an 8-5 winner over Union, in the winner’s bracket semifinal at 3 p.m. today.
Chancli Connaster picked up the win from the circle for Milligan with the complete effort, striking out four while scattering three hits. Brittany Barr took the loss for Columbia, who pitched three on the night.
It was an even-keel battle until Columbia produced back-to-back hits in the top of the third.
After Callie Wayne singled, Crystal Hughes delivered a base hit up the middle. Milligan, however, delivered its biggest defensive play of the game as Olvey rifled the ball from center to third to get the lead runner out and end the Koalas’ frame.
“That was a nice play right there,” said Holly. “I thought Chancli struggled a bit tonight pitching. I didn’t think she had one of her better games, but you can’t just rely on pitching. You have to have good defense and some offense and our bats came alive tonight.”
The momentum carried over to the next half-inning for the Lady Buffs. A hit from Olvey, sandwiched by walks to Makenzie Lilley and Brittany DiRobbio loaded the bases for Lambdin, who took Barr’s third pitch to centerfield for a two-run double.
Sarah Arrowood followed with an RBI single to left to give the Lady Buffs a 3-0 lead.
Columbia was unable to halt the Milligan scoring machine.
In the fourth, after Barr walked Abby Hughes and struck Lilley with a pitch, relief pitcher Wayne walked Elizabethton product Kelsey Simmons to load the bases for Olvey.
The Lady Buff center fielder took her second pitch 208-feet over the fence to clear the bases for a 7-0 lead.
“I saw it and I hit it,” said Olvey. “It felt good. I knew it was out when I hit it. She threw it down the middle.”
Columbia got on the board in the top of the fifth after Brittany Koester doubled and Sarah Gibson walked. A groundout from Jordan Atkinson put the runners in scoring position for Michele Miller, who delivered a sac-fly to plate the Koalas’ lone run.
Milligan continued its battery in the fifth inning. Emily Biggs led off with a triple and scored on a fielder’s choice RBI grounder from Maleah Wolfenbarger.
With two outs on the board, an error at first allowed Simmons to reach safely, then Olvey walked to load the bases for DiRobbio whose drove Wolfenbarger across the plate with a single to end the game.
Offensively, Olvey’s 2-for-3 night with four RBI and two runs scored keyed the Lady Buffs, who scattered their four other hits through the lineup.
“It’s a good start to the tournament,” Holly added. “That’ll settle them down, hopefully. We had a little bit of excitement over the change in the brackets. I’m sure that came into play a little bit. They had awards night tonight and we’ve been over here since 3 o’clock, so they sat around coming in and out.
“It makes a bit of a difference in the preparation of the games. Hopefully, we can get over here tomorrow and get back into our routine and hour-and-a-half before the game.”
The game’s start was delayed until 8:30 p.m. due to the postponement of the morning play-in game between Columbia and Bluefield for the right to face the Lady Buffs.
Columbia disposed of its opponent in the 7 o’clock tilt to reach the winner’s bracket quarterfinal and will face Union in the loser’s bracket today at 1 p.m.
AAC softball tournament at Domtar Park
Columbia 000 01 — 1 3 1
Milligan 003 42 — 9 6 0
Connaster and Arrowood. Barr, Wayne (4), Knipp (5) and Atkinson. W—Connaster. L—Barr. HR—Milligan, Olvey. 3B— Milligan, Biggs. 2B—Columbia, Koester; Milligan, Lambdin.