PUNXSUTAWNEY — Mount Pleasant powered its way into the PIAA Class AAA softball championship with four home runs and one-hit pitching by Mary Smithnosky Monday afternoon for a 13-0 victory over Punxsutawney at St. Francis University.
The Lady Vikings (20-3) advance to the state title game against Mid Valley on Friday at 1:30 p.m. at Penn State University’s Beard Field. Mid Valley edged Central Columbia, 1-0, in the eastern final, scoring the lone run in the fifth inning.
The victory by Mount Pleasant avenges a 3-1 loss to the Lady Chucks in 2018 in the Class AAAA semifinals on the same St. Francis diamond, denying the Lady Vikings an opportunity to defend their state title won in 2017.
“No, I did not,” said Mount Pleasant coach Chris Brunson on if he expected the 13-run output. “She kept a couple balls up and we were on time, and we made the most of it.”
Punxsutawney (11-11) won the flip and elected to be the home team, a decision that allowed Mount Pleasant to grab control of the game after four batters.
Katie Hutter opened the game with a sharp single off losing pitcher Kendall Johnston. Hutter promptly stole second.
Haylie Brunson then cracked a line drive home run over the left-center field fence for a 2-0 lead.
Mary Smithnosky flew out to left field, but Courtney Poulich blasted a solo home run that easily cleared the left field fence for a 3-0 lead.
The Lady Vikings went down in order in the second inning, but used an error and another home run to double their lead in the third inning.
Haylie Brunson’s fly ball down the right field line was dropped for a two-base error and Mary Smithnosky made the most of the free runner by cracking a two-run home run over the left field fence.
Poulich was nicked on the elbow and moved to second on an infield ground out. She came around to score on Abby Swank’s two-out single.
After Mount Pleasant stranded two runners in the fourth inning, the Lady Vikings put the game away with seven runs in the top of the fifth inning.
Hannah Gnibus started the big rally with a single. Sophia Smithnosky was hit by a pitch and Swank walked to load the bases.
Krista Brunson ripped a two-run double off the right-center field fence.
Then, in her final high school at-bat, Lexi Puskar came through with a two-run double to center field.
Puskar was to already be in Fort Sill, Okla., to begin training for her commitment to the Army National Guard, but was granted a reprieve, of sorts, to play in the semifinal.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Puskar. “Actually, I tried to postpone it, but all they would give me was tomorrow. I’m appreciative I at least got to play today.
“I got to be here today.”
Chris Brunson was hoping Puskar would come through on what turned out to be her final at-bat.
“I was praying for her sake she could leave on a good note, and she knocked two in,” said Brunson. “It was just like winning the game.
“She struggled a bit this year. It was just incredible it worked out for her because she is moving on with her life.”
Puskar, the designated player, had struck out twice entering the fifth inning.
“It was a good ending. I was praying and praying that I had the strength to do something with what I was doing, and I got it,” said Puskar.
Mary Smithnosky’s sacrifice fly scored Puskar and Poulich followed with a line drive two-run home run over the left field fence.
“I was just looking for a ball lower. Obviously, my third at-bat (a strikeout) wasn’t the greatest at-bat. I saw my pitch and I capitalized on it,” said Poulich. “The first (home run) felt good. We’re getting deeper into this thing, the harder it is.”
Gnibus singled her second at-bat in the inning and Sophia Smithnosky’s fly ball to center field was dropped. The inning came to a close with a pop out to the catcher.
“Everyone through the lineup had a really good at-bat,” praised Chris Brunson.
While the Lady Vikings pounded out 13 hits spread around eight players, Mary Smithnosky held Punxsutawney to Kaylee Guidice’s single in the bottom of the second inning. She didn’t walk a batter and struck out six.
Smithnosky and Mount Pleasant haven’t allowed a run in the playoffs.
“The difference was the focus on this game than in the previous game. They were laser focused,” said Chris Brunson. “We have a chance to play for the state championship.
“These are incredible kids from incredible families.”
Puskar had a bit of parting advice for her teammates as they prepare for the state title.
“The best piece of advice I can give anyone playing softball, especially a Viking, is that you have to give it your all, all the time and go at it at 110 percent,” said Puskar.