Loaded Mt. Pleasant softball focused on winning titles

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Monday, March 29, 2021 | 4:51 PM


Mt. Pleasant softball is not mincing words when it comes to its end game this season.

“For these seniors, the goal is championship or bust,” coach Chris Brunson said. “It has to be. These girls were seventh- and eighth-graders when we were winning championships. They want their turn at it.”

Eager to make their own mark, the Vikings’ upperclassmen are primed for a big year as they chase the program’s first WPIAL title since 2016.

Mt. Pleasant, which has 36 straight regular-season wins and a 24-game winning streak in section play, won a PIAA championship in 2017 and has made at least the WPIAL and state semifinals three straight years. The Vikings were the WPIAL Class 4A runner-up in ’19.

The 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic.

The team drops to Class 3A and moves into Section 3 with Brownsville, McGuffey, South Allegheny, Southmoreland and Waynesburg.

“We don’t know a lot about those teams, but that could be a good thing for our girls,” Brunson said. “To the girls, they’re lining up to play the New York Yankees every game.”

But murderer’s row could reside in the Vikings’ lineup. Six players have made college commitments: senior pitcher Mary Smithnosky (Western Michigan), senior infielder/outfielder Haylie Brunson (Pitt), junior outfielder Katie Hutter (Akron), senior first baseman Courtney Poulich (Liberty), senior shortstop Hannah Gnibus (Pitt-Johnstown) and junior outfielder Abby Swank (West Liberty).

Poulich is back after a lengthy absence caused by a hamstring injury. Her return is a bonus for an already potent lineup.

“It’s great to have everyone back and healthy,” said Hutter, who batted .442 with 34 hits, four of them triples, in ’19. “We’re going to take it game-by-game and day-by-day. We’re excited to see how far we can go as a team after missing last year.”

Smithnosky, who helped the Vikings to a 19-2 mark (10-0 in section) the last time they played a season, will rely on her defense to make outs.

Gnibus and Brunson, who will start at second, should shore up the routine plays. The team had a .970 fielding percentage two years ago.

As a sophomore, Smithnosky hit .494 with a team-leading 38 hits, and drove in 14. She was 4-0 in the circle with a 0.23 ERA.

Brunson hit three home runs and drove in 15 as a 10th-grader. Gnibus also had three homers, and her 13 extra-base hits were tops on the team.

“Our bats, 1 through 9, 1 through 10, we’re blessed,” coach Brunson said.

Sophomore Sophia Smithnosky also will see time a pitcher. Swank is looking to solidify a spot, maybe in the outfield, and senior Lexis Shawley is the catcher.

“Left field and third are moving targets right now,” Chris Brunson said.

Sophomore Krista Brunson also should see time. Sophia Smithnosky hit a home run in the season opener.

“We’ll see what happens,” Chris Brunson said. “The girls are glad to be back. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The Vikings opened the season with an 8-3 win over Connellsville. They played Monday at Penn-Trafford, the top-ranked team in WPIAL 5A and the 2019 PIAA champs.

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

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