Hempfield freshman Emma Hoffner commits to St. Francis (Pa.)

Friday, February 2, 2018 | 5:30 PM

Emma Hoffner knew from a young age she wanted to play Division I college softball. But that could not have been that long ago.

A freshman with zero varsity experience at WPIAL powerhouse Hempfield, Hoffner already knows where she will play at the next level.

The talented catcher gave a verbal commitment to play at St. Francis (Pa.).

She is the second freshman softball player from Westmoreland County to commit to a Division I program this week, joining Mt. Pleasant outfielder Courtney Poulich (Liberty).

Hoffner, who also plays basketball and volleyball and runs track and field, plays travel softball for the Ohio Outlaws.

“My parents and I have worked so hard to get to this point,” Hoffner said. “I've spent countless hours in the garage hitting with my dad, and to see it all pay off is really exciting.”

St. Francis was one of the most threatening teams to face last season. The heavy-hitting Red Flash won the program's first Northeast Conference title and made their first NCAA Tournament appearance last season. They were top-20 in runs (364), home runs (65) and slugging (.488) and set NEC records for wins (49). The 65 home runs also were an NEC record.

Hoffner's impact won't be felt until years down the road.

The more relevant question is where will she fit in this spring at Hempfield? The Spartans went 27-0 last year, won their third consecutive WPIAL championship and repeated as PIAA champion.

Standout catcher and field leader Madi Stoner graduated, so there could be competition behind the dish.

But the 5-foot-7 Hoffner also has played first base and outfield in travel ball.

“I hope to use my catching abilities to help the team defensively while using my hitting skills to help offensively,” Hoffner said.

Fair enough.

“If (Hoffner) was a freshman last year, you have to wonder where she'd play,” Hempfield coach Bob Kalp said. “That was a pretty tough lineup to crack.

“You can tell she is an athlete. I see that by watching her play basketball. She is coming into a good situation in a successful program. Hopefully she will be a good player for us.”

Hoffner will be the youngest college commit to play for longtime coach Bob Kalp. Star pitcher Morgan Ryan committed to Notre Dame in 2015 when she was a sophomore.

Recruits in softball and baseball are getting younger every year.

Last August, Franklin Regional freshman Bryce Harper committed to play baseball at Virginia Tech.

Earlier this month, Alexia Carrasquillo of Lebanon, Ga., became the youngest player to commit to a Division I program when she made a verbal pledge to Florida. She just turned 12.

The catcher in the Class of '24 took unofficial visits to UCLA, Oklahoma and Florida, according to FloSoftball.com.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

click me