A 2011 season that saw the Milligan Lady Buffaloes softball squad finish with a 32-19 overall mark (9-5 Appalachian Athletic Conference) due, in large measure, to solid senior pitching from Sidney Burns and freshman Chancli Connatser will go into 2012 with a more youthful look.
With Burns having graduated, this year’s edition will have but three seniors and eight freshmen that head coach Wes Holly will call on — but he is not about to cede anything to the Appalachian Athletic Conference at large as he sees his young hurlers coming of age.
“Right now Chancli is carrying the load in the circle for us,” Holly said. “She’s a sophomore, but she pitched a lot last year. Brooke Ingle has an injury right now and Rachel Ingleby isn’t pitching, so we have Chancli and three freshmen pitching for us.”
The freshmen are Samantha Mahala ( Johnson County), Megan Nicol (Surrey, British Columbia) and Sierra Plese (CAK) that Holly will have to fashion into a workable rotation.
“My freshmen are getting some innings under their belt right now,” said Holly. “It’s a matter of getting them mature and mentally tough. Chancli is throwing the ball real well right now. She threw a one hitter at Wise last week.”
So far this season Connatser has hurled 22 innings and has a fine 0.94 earned run average, with opponents batting just .176 against her. She has struck out 18 and given up just three earned runs as Milligan has opened the season 2-3.
Connatser (2-2) had a rough time of it on Tuesday afternoon however, lasting four innings against Brevard (6-1 overall) at Anglin Field in an 8-7 loss to the Lady Tornadoes, but did not get a decision in that contest.
Mahala (0-1) suffered the defeat in extra innings, giving up two runs in the eighth for her first loss of the season.
Connatser surrendered six runs (one earned) on eight hits, while walking two and striking out six. Mahala was also charged with just one earned run in her four innings of work.
The infield setup has backup catcher Emily Biggs (Dobyns-Bennett) and Krista Lambdin in the middle of the infield, with Maleah Wolfenbarger and Abby Hughes on the corners and freshman Sarah Arrowood handling the catching duties.
“Kristin Lambdin is our sophomore shortstop and she’s hitting .389 and Camille Olvey is our center fielder is at .313 rights now,” Holly stated. “Olvey and Brittany DiRobbio give us speed on the bases and in the short game speed is prevalent. You have to be able to put pressure on your opponent on the bases.
“We’ll see if we can continue to hit, and if we can, I think it bodes well for us.”
Milligan enters the new season as the number two pre-season ranked team in the AAC, behind only Reinhardt University and coach Holly hopes his young team can measure up to the high expectations.
The big key for the Buffs is on defense where errors have begun to plague the team and hurt the chances for victories.
“We have been making some errors we really shouldn’t have at this point,” Holly said. “But we haven’t had a lot of practice due to a lot of wet weather, but that’s no excuse. We have to improve in that area right now.
“It’s a matter of getting our chemistry together and for being young, the kids we have all played big roles on their former high school teams. I think our catcher, Sarah Arrowood, is tremendous. She has power and a great arm to throw out runners and hits in the four slot for us.”
The Lady Buffs’ outfield has speed and good throwing arms starting in left field where DiRobbio starts. Olvey is a senior four-year player in center field and Kelsey Simmons will see playing time in the outfield mix as well.
“In this game, a big key is to minimize your mistakes,” Holly explained. “Young players have a tendency to make mistakes, and I’m trying to teach them how not to beat yourself in that way.
“You have to make the routine plays, play together and be where you are supposed to be on the field.”
Other freshmen in the mix for playing time are Lacey Huskins (Unaka), who Holly sees as a middle infielder, and Emily McGee (Knoxville), who could see playing time at first base.