Vikings Capture State Gold

Mt. Pleasant rallies to defeat Mid Valley in PIAA 3A softball championship

Sat Jun 19, 2021 - 12:06AM

Sean Meyers Sean Meyers
Mt. Pleasant won its second ever PIAA softball title against Mid Valley.Mt. Pleasant won its second ever PIAA softball title against Mid Valley.

Last Updated: Wed Aug 25, 2021 - 12:49AM

In their first six playoff games this year, the Mount Pleasant Area Vikings prevailed by shutout each time. Competing in the PIAA Class 3A Championship Game on Friday at Penn State University, however, Mount Pleasant found itself in an unfamiliar position after the first inning – trailing 2-0. Despite the early deficit, the Vikings rallied with five unanswered runs, and prevailed against Mid Valley 5-3 to claim the state title for the second time in program history.

The Vikings’ previous PIAA crown came in Class 4A in 2017, which preceded the current varsity players, as well as third-year head coach Chris Brunson. The Vikings made 2021 a golden year, however, as they became the first team in program history to claim both WPIAL and PIAA titles in the same campaign.

“These girls represent our community with pride, and they do everything the right way,” Brunson said. “It’s just an amazing feeling, and an amazing accomplishment for these girls.”

The Vikings (21-3) were certainly not feeling amazing after the first inning on Friday at Beard Field, however, as the District 2 Champion Spartans (22-3) gained the upper hand. Playing as the road team, the Vikings were held scoreless in the top of the first by sophomore standout Maranda Runco. In the bottom of the frame, Mount Pleasant ace pitcher Mary Smithnosky issued a one-out walk to Chiara Zavislak, and Lindsey Jason followed with a well-struck hit to center field. Mount Pleasant Area junior outfielder Katie Hutter failed to secure the ball, which allowed it to roll to the fence, resulting in an RBI triple that snapped the lengthy shutout streak. The next Mid Valley batter, Kat Davis, executed a squeeze bunt that plated Jason to make it 2-0.

“I think everybody was a little nervous,” Brunson said of his squad’s sluggish start. “I just keep telling the kids ‘you gotta stay calm, just relax, we’ve had adversity before, it’s okay.”’

Both teams were held scoreless in the second inning, but the Vikings got on the scoreboard in the top of the third. Hutter reached with a bloop single to left with two outs, and senior Haylie Brunson smacked a double off the wall in left field that plated the first Mount Pleasant run.

Although Brunson was ultimately stranded at second, the hit seemed to give life to Vikings. To that point, Smithnosky retired the side in order once again in the third, including a flyout of Runco, who entered the contest batting just shy of .700 with 19 homers.

In the fourth, the Vikings pulled even, as senior Courtney Poulich was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a sacrifice by Hannah Gnibus, and then scored when Sophia Smithnosky hit a ground ball to shortstop that resulted in a throwing error.

The top of the fifth proved to be the decisive frame, as the Vikings took the lead by exploding for three runs. Senior Lexis Shawley, who bats in the No. 9 spot, opened the stanza with a double, and after a strikeout, Haylie Brunson delivered an RBI single to center, a hit that Chris Brunson pointed to as the turning point of the game. Brunson advanced to second on a wild pitch, and scored on a two-out single by Poulich. Gnibus followed with a double off the wall, extending the Mount Pleasant advantage to 5-2.

However, the Spartans did not go quietly, as they responded with a run in the bottom of the frame, and appeared poised to add more. Zoe Zelinski opened the inning with a double, but Smithnosky rebounded by recording consecutive outs. With Runco slated to bat, the Vikings elected to intentionally walk her, setting the stage for Zavislak. The freshman center fielder responded with an RBI single, and she represented the tying run with Jason at the plate. The Spartans’ senior then crushed a ball to deep right center, but Hutter ranged over and hauled it in on the warning track to end the threat.

“I have faith in Katie. She’s out there because she runs like a deer, and this field is huge,” Chris Brunson noted.

Despite ample opportunity, the Vikings could not add to their lead, stranding a pair of runners in each the sixth and seventh innings. In the bottom of the seventh, Mid Valley’s Courtney Rebar drew a one-out walk, and after a groundout advanced her to second, the Vikings elected to walk Runco once more, again putting the tying run on base. Smithnosky induced Zavislak to fly out to left field, however, securing the championship for the Vikings.

In earning the victory, Smithnosky allowed three runs on four hits, walking four (two intentionally), while striking out five. Offensively, Haylie Brunson went 2-4 with a pair of RBIs and a run scored, Poulich was 2-3 with two runs and one RBI, and Hutter finished 2-3 with a run scored and a steal.

Runco took the loss for Mid Valley, allowing five runs on 10 hits, walking two while registering six strikeouts. She also was on base twice courtesy of walks, while Jason provided a pair of hits, an RBI, and a run scored.

The contest featured a near-capacity crowd, with fans from both sides reacting loudly from start to finish.

“That atmosphere was crazy. I haven’t played in a game with that many fans screaming at every pitch,” said Haylie Brunson.

The Vikings extended the state title streak for Westmoreland County softball, which has had at least one team capture gold annually (excluding the cancelled 2020 season) dating back to 2016.