Hempfield’s Emma Hoffner hopes to add to bucket of memories

Monday, May 13, 2019 | 7:37 PM

There is a bucket spilling over with softballs in the corner of Emma Hoffner’s room.

Each ball is labeled with accomplishments from the Hempfield sophomore’s high school and travel career: home runs, big hits, important wins. Warm and fuzzy memories. A can of keepsakes.

Included is the ball she drove to deep right-center field for a walk-off RBI double in Hempfield’s 4-3 win over Parkland in eight innings in the PIAA Class 6A title game last season at Penn State.

“It’s in there somewhere,” Hoffner said.

With a new postseason on the horizon, does the bucket have room for a few more gems on the eve of another postseason?

“I hope so,” Hoffner said.

Hempfield (13-6) opens the WPIAL playoffs at 6 p.m. Wednesday against Baldwin (12-3) at Gateway.

If the Spartans are going to make another lengthy postseason run — to a fifth straight WPIAL title an unprecedented PIAA four-peat, perhaps — Hoffner figures into the plans.

The talented catcher is batting .525 (31 for 59) with 10 doubles, two triples, two homers and 23 RBIs.

“At this stage in her career, she’s as good (a catcher) as we’ve had,” longtime Hempfield coach Bob Kalp said.

“Hoff” perhaps is known best for her state game-winner, but, more to the point, she simply has an impact on big games. She went 4 for 4 against North Allegheny and Seneca Valley this season as the Spartans turned a slow start into a share of their fifth section title in a row.

“Last year, I think I was more nervous because it was my first year, and we’re so used to winning,” Hoffner said. “I am happy to be a part of the team, but I knew it would be part of my job to be a leader.”

Kalp appreciates talent. He can spot it a mile away. But when it comes to top-tier catchers, he looks at what they bring to the defense. Hoffner throws rockets to second and can douse a rally quickly with a flick-throw to third or snap to first.

“She is up there with Rhonda Sheleheda as a pure catcher, someone who can throw out baserunners,” Kalp said. “She plays a such a high level.”

In her career, Hoffner has thrown out 15 of 33 would-be base-stealers.

“And with all elite players, there’s that work ethic with Emma,” Kalp said. “She never takes a day off. She holds herself to a different standard.”

Hoffner, who hit .432 and drove in 20 runs as a freshman, already has that best-player-on-the-field look about her, even in practice where she goes full-bore.

“So many people doubted us last year and again this year,” Hoffner said. “It motivates us to want to win.”

Initially a St. Francis (Pa.) commit, Hoffner opened her recruitment after a coaching change in Loretto. She hopes a big travel season with the Outlaws can draw some out-of-state offers, preferably in the ACC, she said.

“I am going to go to some camps and see what happens,” she said. “I am going to the Louisville and N.C. State camps.”

But those plans are for after the high school season. The focus now is to help keep Hempfield among the elite programs in the country — even if the Spartans aren’t the favorites for once.

The WPIAL Class 6A field has just eight teams. It’s as fragile as it is compact.

“We’re going in with confidence, and we want to create our own destiny,” Hoffner said. “We have all made improvements. We have cut down on errors. Our hitting and pitching is better.”

Sophomore pitcher Callie Sowers seems better adjusted to varsity speed and has developed a chemistry with Hoffner.

“She is going to be really good,” Hoffner said.

The past, no matter how good it has been, keeps knocking on the Spartans’ door. But the team wants to stay in the present and focus on this postseason.

“We always hear people talk about the 27-0 team from a couple years ago,” Hoffner said. “We’re so proud of them and happy for them, but we want to make our own statement.”

Hoffner’s big-game heroics could provide another flood of joy for the Spartans — one drop in the bucket at a time.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .


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