UNIVERSITY PARK — The Mount Pleasant softball team rallied from an early 2-0 deficit for a 5-3 victory over Mid Valley in the PIAA Class AAA championship game at Penn State University’s Beard Field on Friday afternoon.
“It’s just an amazing thing for our community. These girls represent our community,” praised Mount Pleasant coach Chris Brunson. “They do everything the right way.”
The Lady Vikings pieced single runs in the third and fourth innings to tie the game, and then put up three in the top of the fifth for the game-deciding runs.
Lexis Shawley started the game-winning rally with a double and as the catcher was run for by Emma Scanlon.
Scanlon moved to second on a wild pitch and scored when Haylie Brunson singled through the infield.
“The turning point was when Haylie punched the ball through. To score that run, things were going in our direction,” said Chris Brunson.
Mary Smithnosky was out on a pop fly to shortstop, but Courtney Poulich kept the inning alive with a run-scoring single.
Poulich came around to score a much-needed insurance run on Hannah Gnibus’ double.
“I get into it, for sure,” said a very happy Poulich. “I left it all out there.”
Katie Hutter dumped a single inside the left field line with two outs to start the rally in the top of the third inning.
Haylie Brunson doubled to left-center field to bring Hutter home.
“We tried to time them out and do our thing,” Haylie Brunson said of the rallies. “We have confidence in the bottom of our order.”
Poulich was hit by a pitch to start the fourth inning. She moved to second on a ground out to third base and scored when the throw to first on Sophia Smithnosky’s grounder was mishandled.
“We knew we had to keep chipping away. We came away with a couple big hits and it worked out,” said Haylie Brunson.
Mid Valley (22-3) did something no other team in the playoffs has been able to do against Mary Smithnosky and the Lady Vikings — score a run.
Mid Valley actually scored two in the bottom of the first inning.
Chiara Zavislak walked with one out and scored when Lindsey Jason’s line drive skipped the the center field wall for a triple.
Jason scored on Kat Davis’ ground out to third base.
“I wasn’t coming in to shut them out,” said Mary Smithnosky. “I got the first inning out of the way and my spin started working out.”
“I think everyone was a little nervous. They got the walk and then the triple,” said Chris Brunson. “They got stirred it up a little.
“I kept telling the kids you have to stay calm and relax. It’s OK. We’ll get our bats going.”
Brunson continued, adding, “Mary was really good. With all their people cheering and chanting, it was a tough environment.”
Smithnosky retired the side in the second and third innings, and stranded a lead-off runner at second with a strikeout and two pop outs to third base in the fourth.
Mid Valley broke through with a run in the fifth inning.
Zoe Zelinski opened the inning with a double down the left field line. Smithnosky retired the next two batters.
Maranda Runco was intentionally walked, and Zavislak stroked a single past shortstop Hannah Gnibus to score Zelinski.
Jason followed with a deep drive to center field, but Hutter tracked down the ball with a nice running catch.
“I have faith in Katie. She’s out there because she runs like a deer,” praised Chris Brunson.
Mount Pleasant had runners at first and second in both the sixth and seventh innings, but failed to score.
Mid Valley went down in order in the sixth inning, but had one last shot in its last at-bat.
Courtney Rebar walked with one out and moved to second on a ground ball to second base.
Chris Brunson again decided to intentionally walk Runco even though it put the tying run on base and brought the potential winning run to the plate.
“That’s a no-brainer,” Brunson said of the decision to walk Runco, who entered the game with 19 home runs and 47 RBI this season. “If someone was going to beat us, it was going to be someone else.”
The runners were stranded when left fielder Abby Swank squeezed Zavislak’s fly ball for the final out.
The Lady Vikings had won a WPIAL title in 2016 and a PIAA title in 2017 but claimed their second district and state championships in the same season in 2021.
“Our goal the whole year was to win the WPIAL and PIAA in the same year,” said Haylie Brunson. “We’ve been talking about this since junior high.
“To follow with it, it’s amazing. The atmosphere here was amazing.”
“It means the absolute high. It feels so good, especially with this group of girls,” added Poulich.
Mary Smithnosky offered high praise for her teammates, especially her fellow seniors.
“This is the best senior class I’ve seen in Mount Pleasant history,” complimented Smithnosky. “We’re so mentally strong. I have such a devotion to these girls.
“(Winning the WPIAL and PIAA titles in the same year) is something you’re not going to appreciate until you’re older.”
Chris Brunson also shared the title with his daughters, Haylie and Krista.
“It’s incredible,” said Brunson. “I only had them together for this year.”