Erin Hocker suffered a rare loss in the circle during travel ball this summer. The Great Falls standout wasn’t about to let it happen again over the weekend.
Hocker, who was named the Gatorade Montana Softball Player of the Year after compiling a 17-0 record and guiding the Bison to the State AA crown in May, posted a 3-0 record over the weekend at the 5th Annual Veterans Memorial Softball Classic to lead Air Force to the title.
That includes winning a pitching duel Saturday evening against Belgrade’s Erin Elgas. Hocker scattered four hits and struck out eight as Air Force shut out Army, 5-0.
“That’s always fun and it’s an exciting game. It makes everything interesting,” Hocker said of the showdown against Elgas. “So I like that and I like competing against other good pitchers.”
Elgas, who helped the Panthers win the state Class A championship the past two seasons, was equally up to the challenge. She scattered five hits and struck out 10 in the loss.
Elgas did allow three walks and a surrendered a key double in the championship game, but enjoyed the opportunity to face Hocker.
“It always fun playing against other really good pitchers. You get to test yourself defensively against their defense and try to win on offense against them,” she said. “That’s really fun. It’s really fun to play against girls like that.”
The championship game lived up to the hype and was scoreless through three innings. But Elgas got into a jam in the fourth after Jazmine Spotted Bear, of Cut Bank, reached on an infield single to load the bases with one out.
Whitney Durocher, of Conrad-Choteau, cleared the bases on the next at-bat with a double to the right-center field gap to give Air Force a 3-0 lead.
“With three people on base I knew I had to get something going. We had 0-0 for the first three innings, so it was time to score,” said Durocher. “We needed to get our bats going and I think that’s what helped us.”
Elgas managed to strike out Belgrade teammate Katie Hoppe and Corvallis’ Ashlynn Nixon to prevent further damage as Air Force got additional runners to second and third, but the three-run lead was more than enough cushion for Hocker.
“As a pitcher when the team provides and we can get runs up it’s always nice. It’s relaxing and you don’t have to worry about too much,” Hocker, who finished with 35 strike outs on the weekend, said. “If the other team gets a run you know that you are still good. So it’s always nice to get some runs right away and have that little back up.”
Air Force added an unearned run in the fourth on a throwing error, and then increased it to 5-0 after Hoppe knocked in Custer County’s Autumn Porter with a single to left in the sixth.
“It was a rise ball,” Hopped noted of the pitch. “It wasn’t a full finish I think on a rise, but it was up there and I just raised my hands and got it.”
Air Force, which had a first round bye, began the tournament by holding off Army 7-6 on Friday. Hocker struck out 14 in the contest and left the game with a 7-0 lead. Army rallied to get within a run in the fifth with Taylor Brinkman in the circle before Hocker returned to close out the victory.
On Saturday, Hocker struck out 13 and scattered six hits in a 3-2 victory against the Marines.
“It’s relaxing because you know when she needs to step up she will. She’ll get that strike out for you. She’ll throw you a ground ball,” Durocher said of Hocker. “Something to get you back in the dugout batting, back on offense.”
Army beat Navy 7-4 to begin the tournament on Friday, and then won three straight on Saturday to reach the championship game. Two of those victories were against Coast Guard, 13-5 and 12-8, and then against Marines in the consolation game, 11-9.
Marines, which included Belgrade’s Haylee Curry, loaded the bases in the top of the seventh. But Elgas struck out Florence-Carlton’s Brianna Hoffman to end the game.
Marines finished 1-2 on the weekend with the lone victory on Friday against Coast Guard, 6-4.
Belgrade’s Ty Atwood, who graduated in June as the program’s career home run leader, competed for Coast Guard. She hit a 3-run homer Saturday morning in a 14-8 victory against Navy.
Coast Guard placed fourth after finishing with a 2-3 record.
In other action at the tournament, Hamilton’s Caitlin Dillon won the base running competition for a third straight year after clocking a time of 5.87 seconds. Porter won the pop-to-pop in 1.67 seconds, while Great Falls’ Morgan Sunchild won Friday night’s home run derby after hitting 10 dingers.
Shepherd’s Jacey Pointer and Dillon were also awarded $1,000 scholarships.
“This is an amazing tournament. Both years our team has just come together really well,” Hoppe, who was also a member of Air Force a year ago, said. “It’s a great experience. I hope that everyone can experience something like this.”
Added Hocker: “You get to meet so many different girls. You get to make new friends. I loved my team, they were fun this year. Team I had last year was fun, but every year it’s always a good time.”
5th Annual Veterans Memorial Softball Classic
(Belgrade Softball Complex)
Army 7, Navy 4
Marines 7, Coast Guard 4
Air Force 7, Army 6
Coast Guard 14, Navy 8
Army 14, Coast Guard 5
Air Force 3, Marines 2
Coast Guard 16, Navy 8, loser-out
Army 11, Coast Guard 9, fourth
Army 11, Marines 9, third
Air Force 5, Army 0, champ
Air Force 5, Army 0
Air Force 000 311 0 - 5 5 0
Army 000 000 0 - 0 4 3
Erin Hocker and Katie Hoppe. Erin Elgas and n/a. W - Hocker. L - Elgas.
AIR FORCE - Sara Sumner 1-3, Autumn Porter 0-3, Jasmine Spotted Bear 1-3, Whitney Durocher 1-2 (2B), Hoppe 2-3 (2B), Jensen Keller 0-3, Ashlynn Nixon 0-3, Hocker 0-1, Taylor Brinkman 0-3, Natalie Edgar 0-2, Arena Porter 0-2, Carly Tipp 0-2.
ARMY - Caitlin Dillon 0-3, Ryley Kehr 0-2, Madi Moore 0-2, Cayley Bushong 0-2, Kynzie Mohl 1-2, Kinzee Peterson 0-2, Sydnie Peterson 0-2, Morgan Snow 0-2, Elgas 0-2, Jacey Pointer 0-2, Kassidy Kinzie 1-2, Nicky Damjanovich 1-2.