GREAT FALLS – Winning a state championship grabs some attention. Going undefeated and winning a title and being the first in Class AA to do it, now that grabs everybody’s attention.
The Great Falls High softball team opens the season trying to defend the team’s title. The Bison lost three key starters to graduation but the majority of that championship team is back again this year, making Great Falls High even hungrier to try and go back to back.
“We’re pretty excited, it’s going to be a good season. Even though we lost those seniors from last year, we’re going to fill those spots pretty easily,” said senior outfielder Sarah Conway. “They were key players but we’re just going to make our own key players now. Hopefully we’ll do pretty good this season.”
“Just play hard, play game to game. Most of these girls keep telling me they want to do it again. I told them lets just play to win a lot of ball games,” said head coach Mike Coleman. “The undefeated thing is tough to do, a state championship is tough. We’re just going to play as hard as we can and hopefully we’ll repeat it.”
So who’s going to be on the mound? Reigning Gatorade player of the year Erin Hocker has left some monumental shoes to fill. The Bison will look to answer that in the form of a three-pitcher system. Juniors Maggie Bell and Shayla Hilton look to see the hill at times this season, but it looks like the brunt of the load and the ace spot will go to junior Annie Toon.
“Right now, she’s probably looking like the No. 1. She’s throwing the hardest, she’s probably up in the sixty-two, sixty-three miles per hour range. Her ball is working real well, moving real well,” said Coleman.
“It feels good, I’m excited. We loved having Erin (Hocker) last year, she was great. I think our pitching staff looks great this year,” said Toon. “We should have at least three really solid that can pitch at any time. I think we’ll be sitting fine for pitching.”
Getting advice from one of the best pitchers this state has ever seen is a rarity that not many players are given. Toon soaked up all the knowledge she could get from Hocker, now she’s ready to take the stage and be put to the test.
“(Hocker) gave me tips on everything, from mechanics to spins. She showed me what works best for her and I would take it and incorporate it into what I do,” said Toon. “She was basically just a leader, she lead our team in attitude, you could just tell that (Hocker) was someone everyone looked up to.”
Great Falls High opens the season on the road at Helena High and Helena Capital on Tuesday, April 2.
Reloaded and prepared to back its state title, the Bison are ready. That biggest question is, will the rest of the AA be?