Mt. Pleasant softball blanks Punxsutawney, advances to PIAA Class 3A title game

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Monday, June 14, 2021 | 4:18 PM


LORETTO — This must be what they mean at Mt. Pleasant when they say, “Row, Vikes.”

The Mt. Pleasant softball team left no doubt that it belongs in the state championship, flexing its offensive muscles like it did in the WPIAL finals on the way to a dominating, 13-0 win over Punxsutawney on Monday in a PIAA Class 3A semifinal at St. Francis (Pa.).

The run-ruled game, the Vikings’ sixth shutout in as many playoff matchups, ended after five innings.

So much for any issues with a potential lack of focus that coach Chris Brunson hinted to after the quarterfinals.

“Yeah, I think we’re OK,” Brunson said.

The result was as much of a no-doubter as some of the homers the Vikings swatted over the fence at Red Flash Softball Field.

Senior Courtney Poulich hit two of her team’s four home runs, eight Vikings had at least one hit and senior Mary Smithnosky tossed her second one-hitter of the postseason as Mt. Pleasant sizzled from the start.

Seven of 13 ear-ringing hits went for extra bases.

The Vikings (20-3) advance to play Mid-Valley (22-2) for the state title at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Penn State’s Beard Field.

Punxsutawney, the District 9 champion, is finished at 11-11.

“The girls were laser-focused today,” Brunson said. “Everyone had good at-bats and they all hit. We have some incredible kids. They want to finish this off.”

Poulich, who has hit five of her team-leading 10 homers in the playoffs, said the Vikings adjusted quickly to Chucks’ senior pitcher Kendal Johnston, who came at them with a slower, more deliberate delivery.

Mt. Pleasant, in the semis for the fourth straight year, didn’t need a one-time-through look at Johnston. A few pitches sufficed and … boom.

“We came out focused,” said Poulich, a Liberty commit who was 2 for 3 with three RBIs. “Focused and hot. It was a great team win and everyone pitched in.”

Smithnosky, whose performance was somewhat overshadowed by the hit parade, stretched her scoreless innings streak to 38. She also homered and drove in three runs.

“I give a lot of credit to our defense,” said Smithnosky, a Western Michigan commit. “Hannah Gnibus made some nice plays (at shortstop) and (catcher) Lexi (Shawley) helped me get strikes. I trust her so much.”

Senior Pitt recruit Haylie Brunson got the offense warmed up with a two-run, line-drive homer to center in the first, followed by a solo shot from Poulich.

Another three-run inning followed in the third as Smithnosky belted a homer, and junior Abby Swank laced a run-scoring double off the fence to make it 6-0.

With Punxsutawney going quietly inning after inning, Mt. Pleasant added on. A seven-run fifth slammed the door on the Chucks as the Vikings loaded the bases and saw sophomore Krista Brunson rip a two-run double into the right-field corner.

Senior Lexi Puskar, the player everyone wanted to see get a hit, did so in her final high school game before she leaves for the Army National Guard. With a two-run double, Puskar made it 10-0 with no outs in the fifth.

“I was just praying to do something and I got it,” Puskar said. “I had a lot of support. I had some angst coming in, but I am at peace with my last game.”

Mary Smithnosky added a sacrifice fly, and Poulich belted another homer, this one a two-run shot, to cap the scoring.

Senior Hannah Gnibus went 3 for 4 for the Vikings, while Haylie Brunson and Poulich each scored three runs.

Sophomore Kaylee Guidice had a single for the Chucks, who struck out six times against Smithnosky.

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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