The distance from home plate to the pitching rubber increases by three feet when the high school softball season opens this spring.
Chancli Connatser is ready for the change. It fits perfectly with her future plans. The Maryville senior signed a National Letter of Intent with Milligan College last week at the high school.
In past years, it was not uncommon for a pitcher to struggle, at least initially, when switching from the 40 feet of the high school game to the 43 in college. Connatser, who can reach the upper 60s from the longer distance, has been fanning batters from the 43 feet distance with her club team since her freshman year. Coupled with being reunited with former Lady Rebel catcher Camille Olvey, who signed with the Lady Buffs as an outfielder last season, Milligan was a slam dunk.
“I stepped on campus and kind of fell in love with it,” Connatser said. “It just really felt like home.”
Connatser welcomes the change to 43 feet in the high school game. The tall, strong right-hander possesses more than enough power to pitch on the college level. It’s what the extra distance can do for her breaking pitches that have her excited.
“I like it better,” she said. “It’s hard to make a ball move at 40 feet.”
Maryville coach Ken Hawkins feels good about Connatser’s chances at Milligan, regardless of how far it is to the plate.
Rolling up a 20-9-1 record, Connatser pitched the Lady Rebels to within a win of the Class AAA state championship game last spring. An All-State selection, Connatser retired 254 batters by strikeout, compiling a 1.84 earned run average. In Connatser, Milligan is getting the thing that matters most in a pitcher, Hawkins said. Above all else, Connatser is a competitor.
“They’re expecting her to come in as a freshman and start contributing right away,” Hawkins said. “It’s a good fit for her.”
The Lady Rebels overcame a pair of severe obstacles to finish third at state last season. Senior and starting pitcher Brittany Monday, a freshman at Tennessee Wesleyan, injured her shoulder in the season’s first month and wouldn’t return to the pitching circle until the state tournament.
Compounding matters, All-State freshman shortstop Bry Blanco was lost for the postseason after suffering a broken hand in the district tournament. At the time, Blanco was hitting a team-leading .546 with 41 runs scored, 26 RBI and six home runs.
That Maryville could come so close last season battling those setbacks was quite an achievement. It’s just not what the Lady Rebels had planned.
“We want to go back and we want to win it,” Connatser said.
With his ace not having to worry about where she’ll play in college, Hawkins likes Maryville’s chances.
“We’ll put it on Chancli’s shoulders and say, ‘Let’s go,’” he said. “She won’t ease off because she’s signed.”