Elizabeth Forward knocks off Mt. Pleasant for 1st WPIAL softball title

Friday, May 31, 2019 | 3:03 PM

Elizabeth Forward softball coach Harry Rutherford didn’t tell his team Mt. Pleasant was ranked No. 13 in the nation by MaxPreps.

“They didn’t need to know that,” the coach said. “I don’t know if they knew that. They had already beaten two undefeated teams (earlier in the season), and I knew they had the confidence they could knock off another one.”

And that’s what the Warriors did to claim their first WPIAL championship in the sport, coupling precise bunting and base-stealing with the pitching of sophomore Kailey Larcinese to blank mighty Mt. Pleasant, 3-0, in the Class 4A title game Friday afternoon at Latrobe’s Graham-Sobota Field.

Elizabeth Forward (17-3) came within one out of victory last year in a 5-4 loss to Belle Vernon in the 2018 WPIAL championship and had been denied in four other trips to the district finals.

A crisp shutout of the top-seeded Vikings allowed No. 2 Elizabeth Forward to finally wrap its arms around the trophy.

“Our girls don’t play with fear,” Rutherford said. “Me, I’m about to puke out there when I’m out there coaching them.”

Mt. Pleasant (17-1) had not lost since last year’s PIAA semifinals and had not been shut out since a 1-0 loss to Belle Vernon in last season’s WPIAL semifinals.

The Vikings were more subdued than stunned as a game with very few scoring chances hurried to a finish.

“Sometimes, it’s not your turn,” Mt. Pleasant coach Chris Brunson said.

Elizabeth Forward ended the Vikings’ season-long unbeaten streak while upgrading their own to 16.

The Vikings, who won a WPIAL Class 3A title in 2016, had blanked the Warriors earlier in the year, 4-0.

“We knew we’d get smalled,” Brunson said. “They just executed better than we did. Sometimes it just goes (the other team’s) way.”

Elizabeth Forward couldn’t wait to return to the finals for another title shot.

“The girls had a bad taste in their mouths after last year,” Rutherford said. “They came back with a passion. We’re happy it ended on our side.”

Larcinese struck out eight and walked two in a complete-game shutout.

“When you run into someone who is pitching like that, it’s hard to do anything,” Brunson said. “We tried to be aggressive; we knew she was going to throw strikes. She was just missing the barrels. She got her feet on the ground and just went. We didn’t get the bunt down.”

Small ball carried the offense and gave Larcinese just enough run support.

With the Warriors ahead 1-0, Larcinese helped her cause with a leadoff single to center in the fifth. She later scored on a bunt by sophomore MacKenzie Kearns, who reached on a throwing error. Larcinese had swiped second on a wild pitch.

“We knew it could be a pitchers’ duel so we’d have to be able to bunt to score runs,” Rutherford said.

With two outs, junior Jordan Pinneri, who was 2 for 3, followed with a tight bunt single to score Kearns, who stole second and third, for a 3-0 lead.

“Jordan came through,” Rutherford said. “For as little as she is, she is our No. 4 hitter, our best hitter. And Kailey continues to show she is one of the top pitchers in the WPIAL. She is now sixth all-time in strikeouts.”

Speaking of strikeouts, senior Carolyn Alincic had 12 of them and walked just one for Mt. Pleasant. The Morehead State recruit limited the Warriors to just four hits, one of which, though, was a sharp, run-scoring single down the first base line by sophomore catcher Brianna Sersevic in the fourth.

Pinneri scored on the play after she reached on a bunt single, stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball.

Mt. Pleasant put runners at second and third with two outs in the bottom of the sixth but could not score. Freshman Katie Hutter singled and sophomore Haylie Brunson walked for the Vikings in their best-chance inning.

Larcinese issued a walk and threw a wild pitch in the inning but came away unscathed. The Vikings’ No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters were a combined 1 for 8.

“She is just so tough,” Chris Brunson said of Larcinese, whom he coached in travel ball, along with Pinneri. “We knew it was going to be very tough defensively and she raised her level.”

An air-tight Warriors defense, led by sophomore shortstop Anna Resnik and Pinneri, did not commit an error.

Alincic set down seven straight after the Warriors did their damage, but the Vikings’ offense came up empty.

In the seventh, Larcinese carved up a 1-2-3 finish, which included a terrific running catch by Pinneri in foul territory for the second out.

Larcinese struck out Abby Swank to end it, shouting an emphatic, “She went!,” after a check-swing at a 3-2 pitch.

“I knew I could not let the team down; we had to get it done,” Larcinese said.

Sophomore Lexis Shawley had an opposite-field double for Mt. Pleasant in the second inning.

The Class 4A final had been postponed two days after rain and storms made Peterswood Park unplayable.

Chris Brunson made his second straight trip to the finals. He was an assistant last year at Southmoreland when the Scotties won the 3A title.

Both teams will enter the PIAA playoffs Monday. Mt. Pleasant won a PIAA title in 2017 as the WPIAL’s third-place team.

Check out an archived video stream broadcast of this game on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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