Chancli Connatser was fine until they started playing that song.
Once “Rocky Top” began wafting from the public address system at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium, the Milligan College right-hander and former Maryville High standout said she realized she wasn’t at Sandy Springs Park anymore, and that wasn’t Alcoa, Heritage or William Blount in the other dugout.
The Lady Buffaloes were guests of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols at the Tennessee Fall Classic last weekend. Connatser got the start against Tennessee in the pitching circle last Friday, with former Lady Rebel Camille Olvey starting for Milligan in center field.
Lee Stadium is an intimidating, masterpiece of a sporting venue with all the amenities. Tennessee, third at the Women’s College World Series a year ago, is one of the nation’s top programs.
Connatser said she wasn’t bothered by any of that, at least initially.
“Your adrenaline just hits you hard,” the Milligan freshman said. “On the way over here, I was chilled out. The nerves didn’t kick in until they played ‘Rocky Top.’”
Olvey didn’t have time for any nerves as she stepped to the plate as the game’s first batter to face Lady Vol ace Cat Hosfield. She promptly deposited a drive in the gap for Milligan’s lone hit of the contest in an 8-0 Tennessee win. The Lady Buffs’ junior would elicit a walk later in the contest.
The Lady Buffs fell, 3-1, to Western Kentucky in Friday’s opener.
Connatser, who pitched Maryville to a third-place finish at the 2009 Class AAA state tournament, worked three innings against the Lady Vols, surrendering six hits and five earned runs while striking out two and walking four.
Hosfield allowed only Olvey to reach base in five innings worked.
Like Connatser, Olvey, who hit .317 for Milligan a year ago, said it’s difficult not to be awed by Tennessee’s posh facilities and often bigger, faster athletes.
“You might be scared to come out here at first,” she said.
Nerves, however, weren’t as much of a factor as were the faster speeds the Lady Vols pitch, throw and run the bases with, Olvey said.
“We practiced getting rid of the ball quicker,” she said. “We didn’t come out hitting. That’s our biggest weakness.”
Connatser said the Lady Buffs didn’t fancy themselves leaving Lee Stadium with a win, but they’d hoped for a closer contest. Regardless, she said, Milligan, the 2009 Appalachian Athletic Conference champion, knows what it must work on to make ready for the spring season.
“We expected to lose,” Connatser said. “We just didn’t want to lose so badly. They showed us what we have to improve on to get to this level.”
Maryville coach David Allen said he was proud of the way his former charges acquitted themselves.
“I thought they carried themselves really well,” he said. “I was impressed Camille led off the game with a hit. Against one of the top teams in the nation, they held their own.”