Mt. Pleasant softball again avenges loss to WPIAL champion Belle Vernon

Thursday, June 7, 2018 | 4:21 PM

Mt. Pleasant stewed about its WPIAL semifinal loss to Belle Vernon, a game in which the defending state champion Vikings finished without a hit and struck out 18 times against Leopards starter Bailey Parshall.

Given a second chance, the Vikings didn't waste it.

Mt. Pleasant got to Parshall early, got a strong pitching performance from its own star hurler in Carolyn Alincic and added some crucial insurance late, holding on for a 3-2 victory over Belle Vernon in a PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal softball game Thursday at Latrobe's Graham-Sobota Field.

“We were taking it one game at a time, but when we saw a couple days ago where we played and who we played, we were pretty excited to get back at it and put better swings on the ball than we did last time,” said senior Chloe Poulich, whose two-run homer in the sixth inning gave Mt. Pleasant a 3-0 lead, runs they would end up needing when Belle Vernon scored twice in the bottom of the inning.

Belle Vernon, which followed its WPIAL semifinal victory over Mt. Pleasant by beating Elizabeth Forward in the championship game, put two runners on base in the bottom of the seventh, but Mt. Pleasant reliever Meadow Uncapher retired Mekenzie Sokol on a groundout to end the game.

Mt. Pleasant (19-1), which will play District 9 champion Punxsutawney in the PIAA semifinals Monday at a site and time to be determined, eliminated Belle Vernon from the state tournament for the second consecutive season.

In fact, it was almost a replica: 1-0 victories for Belle Vernon in the WPIAL semifinals each season, followed by a one-run victory by Mt. Pleasant in the PIAA quarterfinals.

“I think it was a little bit of (a different) mindset, but also, just sometimes things have to go your way,” Mt. Pleasant coach Lauren Armanious said. “We were very aggressive, and that's what we've been practicing is to stay very aggressive, to be more aggressive at the plate, more aggressive in the field and overall. They did a very good job of doing that.”

The Vikings put any thoughts of a no-hitter out of mind right away, getting three consecutive one-out hits off Parshall in the top of the first inning to push a run across. Courtney Poulich singled up the middle, Chloe Poulich beat out a bunt and Haylie Brunson drove an RBI single to left.

“We were swinging out of our shoes (in the semifinal loss); we were trying to hit home runs every time,” Chloe Poulich said. “Bailey's a great pitcher, and you're not going to do that every single time. I think just now focusing on seeing the ball, hitting spots and everything and just putting hard contact on it was important.”

For much of the game, Alincic looked like she might make the 1-0 lead stand up. Belle Vernon (22-4) put its leadoff hitter on base every inning from the second to the fifth, but Alincic, a Dominican College recruit, stranded the baserunner each time.

“This much wins or loses games,” Belle Vernon coach Tom Rodriguez said. “There's too many little things. You need a little bit of a luck, I'm a believer in that — look at us in the WPIALs. I thought we did OK. One bad pitch. … We got some timely hitting at the end, but just one short of making a difference in the game.”

Parshall, a Penn State recruit, retired the next 14 batters, but Mt. Pleasant got some insurance in the sixth. Addy Kubasky led off with a single and scored when Towson recruit Poulich lined a Parshall offering over the wall in right field with one out.

“Had she not come through, it would have been maybe a different game,” Armanious said. “That is what we come to expect from her in particular. Our big hitters, they need to make those big hits, those huge strides of scoring runs when we really need to.”

Belle Vernon finally got to Alincic in the bottom of the sixth. Kourtney Gavatorta, Sokol and Sophia Godzak led off the inning with three straight singles, the last of which drove in a run and brought about a pitching change. Godzak was caught in a rundown between first and second after her single for the first out, and although Jordan French's groundout against Uncapher brought in a second run, Mt. Pleasant got out of the inning with a one-run lead.

“I expected a low-scoring game,” Rodriguez said.

Two-out singles by Parshall and Gavatorta gave Belle Vernon life in the seventh, but Uncapher fielded Sokol's comebacker and threw to first for the final out. Alincic gave up two runs on six hits in her 5 13 innings, striking out eight, and Uncapher struck out a pair in her 1 23 innings of relief.

“Most teams rely on one horse. We have two,” Armanious said of the Alincic/Uncapher tandem. “That makes our defense that much stronger. To have two very capable pitchers in the circle is fantastic.”

Parshall allowed five hits in her seven innings of work, walking one and striking out 11. This time, though, Mt. Pleasant could swallow the strikeouts, especially knowing it stands just two wins away from a second straight state title.

“We're just going to take it one game at a time and keep going,” Poulich said. “Take it one inning at a time, one pitch at a time, work on seeing the ball, hard contact, solid defense and keep going.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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