Mt. Pleasant, Ligonier Valley softball roll with punches to move on in state tournament

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Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | 6:14 PM


Besides winning, Mt. Pleasant and Ligonier Valley had something else in common in their PIAA softball playoff openers Monday.

Both teams had to shuffle their defenses.

WPIAL Class 3A champion Mt. Pleasant (18-3) was dealt a surprise in warmups when senior star and leading hitter Haylie Brunson dislocated her finger while fielding a ground ball.

The Vikings quickly reorganized the defense against Bald Eagle Area at Peterswood Park, moving four players to new positions, including sophomore Sophia Smithnosky, who moved from second base and took over for Brunson at third.

Junior Katie Hutter went from center field to second, junior Abby Swank moved from designated player — Brunson took that spot to hit only — to right field, and sophomore Krista Brunson slid over from right to center.

The Vikings won, 4-0, for their fourth straight postseason shutout. They will play Avonworth (14-6) at 2 p.m. Thursday at Norwin in the state quarterfinals. It will be rematch from the WPIAL semifinals when the Vikings won, 8-0.

“We’re all good about playing wherever coach Chris (Brunson) needs us and we accept our roles,” said Hutter, who drove in three runs. “Even if it’s 10 minutes before the game starts.”

Ligonier Valley (20-2), meanwhile, moved into the 2A quarterfinals with a 3-2 win over Sharpsville at Slippery Rock. With sophomore shortstop Haley Boyd out of the lineup for personal reasons, the Rams had to do some maneuvering.

They are set to play District 5 champion Chestnut Ridge (18-6) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Mt. Aloysius College.

Freshman Cheyenne Piper moved from left to short and junior Kendall Domurot went to left. The lineup also changed some, with senior Annabella Schueltz hitting second, a spot occupied by Boyd, and Domurot dropped into the eighth spot.

“Cheyenne did really well,” Rams junior pitcher Maddie Griffin said. “She pulled off a double play and made one of the final three outs in the bottom of the seventh. Bella is a good bunter, so her being in the two spot worked out.”

Rams coach Mark Zimmerman said, “Both girls did as well as we could have expected. They made the plays when we needed them to.”

Chris Brunson said he is not sure if Haylie Brunson will play in the field Thursday. She plans to hit.

“We knew we could move people around,” Chris Brunson said. “I was frantic for a little bit there, but it worked out. Every kid takes ground balls and fly balls at every practice so they’re ready.”

Mt. Pleasant has its second state title in sight. The Vikings won Class 4A in 2017.

The adversity was more fuel than a deterrent.

“When we realized she got hurt, we all rallied together and played our hearts out,” said senior Courtney Poulich, who hit a towering home run Monday. “People stepped up. Being able to adapt and play different positions is crucial and a huge strength. It was a great team win, and I’m so proud of how we persevered through the adversity.”

It is unclear if Boyd will play Thursday.

Ligonier Valley has never reached the state semifinals but could do so in its first season in the WPIAL.

If the Rams advance, they may need to score more runs. After a 12-0 win over California in the WPIAL first round, they have plated nine runs in four playoff games.

They have often relied on small ball to manufacture runs. Unlike many playoff teams, the Rams use an old-school approach to winning: strong pitching, air-tight defense and sometimes scraped-together runs.

Sacrifice bunts and shortened swings have become commonplace for the Rams.

All three of their runs against Sharpsville were unearned. Griffin and senior Kailey Johnston each had RBI singles.

“The biggest thing we need to do is capitalize on baserunners,” Griffin said. “We don’t have anyone who is going to change the game with a single swing of the bat, but we have enough girls that can put the ball in play consistently to make the defense sweat a little. In order to keep going we need to continue to do what is necessary to score. Everyone on the team is going to have to sacrifice something if we are going to go the whole way.”

Hutter said Mt. Pleasant was more than ready to make changes on the fly.

“I think we handled the last-minute changes well,” Hutter said. “Due to most of us playing travel ball and seeing the field from different positions through that it wasn’t a huge difference individually, but as a team it was different to see various players where they don’t typically play in the high school season.”

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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