Mt. Pleasant rallies past Mid Valley to capture state softball championship

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Friday, June 18, 2021 | 4:47 PM


UNIVERSITY PARK — Tested for the first time in the postseason, the Mt. Pleasant softball team had to find a higher gear to get around Mid Valley in the state championship game.

Rather than committing to memory an early deficit against the only team to score on them in the postseason, the Vikings relied on their strengths to persevere.

They rallied for a 5-3 victory in the PIAA Class 3A title game Friday afternoon at Penn State’s Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park to bring home their second state championship in five years.

The Vikings beat Tunkhannock by the same score to win the Class 4A title in 2017.

“That last out when everyone came together, it felt amazing,” Vikings senior first baseman Courtney Poulich said. “We rallied back. … We didn’t let that beat us down.”

Poulich, senior Haylie Brunson and junior Katie Hutter had two hits, and senior pitcher Mary Smithnosky and her defense showed up again as the Vikings (21-3) celebrated and collected their coveted gold medals.

District 2 champion Mid Valley is finished at 22-3.

That the result was not a shutout did not bother the team, and it did not bother Smithnosky, who allowed four hits and struck out five.

Smithnosky had pitched six straight shutouts in the postseason and brought a 38-inning scoreless streak into the state final.

“I didn’t let that get to me,” Smithnosky said. “I was really confident. This is the state championship. I wasn’t expecting to throw a shutout. I was just expecting to pitch my best for my team.”

Poulich, Brunson (second base), Hutter (center field) and senior shortstop Hannah Gnibus made key defensive plays to keep Mid Valley at bay.

Poulich also scored two runs.

A three-run fifth inning allowed the WPIAL champion Vikings, who had 10 hits, to rally from an early deficit and gain their footing.

They are the first team in school history to win a WPIAL and PIAA title in the same season.

In the fifth, senior catcher Lexis Shawley led off with a double, and freshman courtesy runner Emma Scanlon scored on a single by Haylie Brunson.

“I felt like that’s when everything started to go in our direction,” Vikings coach Chris Brunson said. “Hats off to (Mid Valley). That’s a great team with a great pitcher.”

Poulich followed with an RBI single, and Gnibus cracked a double off the fence in center, nearly clearing the big blue wall for a home run, to make it 5-2.

The Vikings, who took some time to adjust to Mid Valley hard-throwing sophomore pitcher Maranda Runco, who struck out 206 this season, overcame the slow start.

“We got through that pitcher and were able to adjust,” Chris Brunson said. “We knew she would come out on fire. I was a pitcher. I know about that stuff. She was juiced up. Our kids stayed calm, had good at-bats and battled.”

Haylie Brunson, who went 2 for 4 with two RBIs, said of Runco: “She was on a different tier. It took us one time through the order to adjust, and we started to hit.

“We have been working for this since we were in junior high. To pull through was amazing.”

Mid Valley quickly extinguished Smithnosky’s scoreless streak with a two-run first inning. Senior Lindsey Jason, who went 2 for 3, ripped a run-scoring triple to the fence in center, then sophomore Kat Davis dropped a sacrifice bunt to bring home the second run for a quick, 2-0 jump.

The Vikings responded in the third. Hutter singled to left, and Haylie Brunson ripped her 23rd double of the season to the fence in left to make it 2-1.

The Vikings tied it in the fourth. Poulich was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Gnibus and came around to score on an error on first baseman Courtney Rebar, who couldn’t handle a throw from third baseman Emma Kobylanski.

“Five lefties in the lineup was not something we’re used to seeing,” Mid Valley coach Mike Piercy said of Mt. Pleasant. “We wanted to keep the ball inside on their hitters, but they caught on. We hit a couple balls hard to the gap, but they made the plays.”

The Spartanettes made it 5-3 in the fifth on a single by freshman Chiara Zavislak.

After Mt. Pleasant left two runners stranded in the sixth and seventh and could not add to their advantage, the Spartanettes nearly came back in their last at-bats.

With Rebar at first and two outs, Mt. Pleasant intentionally walked Runco, who came in with 19 homers and 47 RBIs, for the second time — her 15th free pass in the playoffs. Zavislak came up, but Smithnosky got her to fly out to left to end it.

“If someone was going to beat us, it was going to be another kid,” Brunson said of Runco, who struck out six and walked two.

A parade down Main Street in Mt. Pleasant with fire trucks and police cars was planned for the Vikings upon their return to town.

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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