Mental toughness, blazing fastball make Penn-Trafford pitcher Mia Smith hard to hit

Wednesday, April 27, 2022 | 9:01 AM

There is a lot going on behind the intense eyes and stoic game face of Mia Smith.

Often, quietly, a perfect storm is brewing. A 50-50 mix of mental toughness and physical ability fuses inside the chalk-lined circle from where she pitches.

When she rears back and prepares to send a sizzling fastball — or curve, change-up, screwball or riser — past an opposing batter, the Penn-Trafford senior does so with supreme confidence.

She breathes, focuses on her spot and fires, knowing the yellow blur is going to sting the catcher’s palm and send a stern dare the hitter’s way.

It’s like when she took tae kwon do as a middle-schooler, a hobby she has since given up but borrows from every time she takes the circle. She gets her kicks now purely from softball, but the martial arts discipline has helped to mold her into a more complete athlete.

“It helped me with my determination and confidence,” Smith said. “It made me mentally stronger. I take a deep breath, slow down and focus. I do that probably 95% of the time when I pitch.”

So, if she issues a walk or gives up a hit — both big ifs on some days — Smith can turn a negative into a positive with steadfast resolve.

A Pitt-Johnstown commit, Smith was 9-1 through 10 games and had 88 strikeouts against 15 walks, allowing just 21 hits and seven earned runs.

Of the Ks, 26 were caught-looking punchouts.

Her itsy-bitsy ERA was 0.92.

“Before, she might let her hitting affect her pitching,” Penn-Trafford coach Denny Little said. “If she struck out, she might take that with her when she pitched the next inning. But I don’t see that anymore.”

About hitting, Smith was batting .400 and had a grand slam to her credit, bouncing from the No. 3 to 5 spot in the order. She has the dual-threat look of a Division II player who can make an impact in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

“The past couple years, I have been known as just a pitcher,” Smith said. “That boosts my confidence, too. I want to be more than that. I want to help my team any way I can.”

Sorry, Mia. Penn-Trafford is going to remember you as a pitcher.

Smith was essentially a closer in 2019 when Penn-Trafford went 23-2 and won the PIAA Class 5A championship. She often gave starter Morgan Hilty a break and used her velocity to power through the final innings.

That pitching backed a terrific hitting team that included Morgan Nedley, Emma Armstrong, Brooke Cleland, Emma Little and others.

“The plan in 2020 was to throw Morgan and Mia,” Little said. “We thought they could feed off each other. Maybe one throws four or five and the other two or three (innings). But the season never happened (because of covid-19).”

Smith said, “Morgan was my sister. I was the little sister.”

Little knew what his plan was the last two years: Smith, Smith and more Smith.

“I think I threw over 300 pitches in three games we played against Connellsville, Latrobe and TJ,” Smith said. “It doesn’t bother me. I am used to it with travel ball.”

Last year, Smith struck out 15 in a game twice — a program record.

She now wants to reach 180 strikeouts in a season.

A leader on another Penn-Trafford team (10-1, 6-1) that looks like it can make some noise in the postseason, Smith is like another coach, Little said.

“I like to encourage the girls and let them know I believe in what they can do,” Smith said. “That is what past players and coaches did for me.”

Little said that type of connection is something he tried to instill in an effort to create a family atmosphere at Penn-Trafford.

“It’s like when I look around at games and see (past players) there to support the girls,” Little said. “That means so much. It’s like what they have at Hempfield. That is what I want to see here.”

While Smith’s ability to get out hitters impresses him, Little has grown to appreciate her positive influence over the team.

He has coached Smith since she was 7.

“When she was 9, her dad told me she was hitting 53 on the gun,” Little said. “I said, what?”

“She has been a leader since Day 1 this year,” Little said. “She is talking more. She was kind of quiet before. She asked me recently if she could say something to the team. I said, sure. She talked about how tough the teams can be the second time through section play, that they aren’t the same teams we saw before.”

“She has done so much for this program,” Little said.

Little said Smith has been clocked at 65 mph on the radar gun.

“Sometimes we have to gear her back,” he said. “I don’t want to overwork her. We’re trying to develop that second pitcher (senior McKenzie Rapp or freshman Cameron Ponko).”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at


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