Smithnosky pitches top-seeded Mt. Pleasant past Derry, into Class 3A semifinals

Thursday, May 20, 2021 | 7:22 PM

Normally, hitting is what jump starts the high-powered Mt. Pleasant softball team. One knock usually leads to many more.

But in the Vikings’ playoff opener Thursday under blazing sunshine at Norwin, pitching carried the day.

Senior Mary Smithnosky put together a career performance, striking out 14 in a three-hit shutout, as No. 1 Mt. Pleasant shut down No. 9 Derry, 6-0, in the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals.

Mt. Pleasant (15-3), which had 12 hits, advances to play No. 4 Avonworth (12-5) on Tuesday. It will be the Vikings’ fifth straight appearance in the semifinals.

Derry ends a memorable season at 7-7. The Trojans came in off the first playoff win in program history.

“Everybody says, ‘You’re the top seed, but watch out because there have been some upsets,’ ” said Smithnosky, who struck out the side in the first to set the tone. “We knew we had better show up today. It was a quiet bus ride here. We were focused.”

Smithnosky, who also doubled in a run, was in control from the start. She allowed three singles and did not let a runner reach third.

“That was the best game Mary pitched all year,” Mt. Pleasant coach Chris Brunson said. “She’s been battling a shoulder issue and has been working on her mental focus. That is a lot on a kid. But she has stepped up big time, and she was great today.”

Smithnosky, a Western Michigan commit as a position player, was effective on inside and outside pitches, mixing them up to keep the Trojans guessing. She threw 127 pitches, 74 for strikes.

She said she loves to work the circle on hot days.

“I am better when it’s scalding hot,” she said.

Kind of like the screaming, climbing line drive senior Courtney Poulich hit in the second inning.

Poulich ripped a liner over the center-field fence for her team’s first run. It was her sixth blast of the season and third in her last two games.

A throwing error made it 2-0.

The Vikings, fresh off a first-round bye, took a three-run lead in the third on a run-scoring single by senior Haylie Brunson, who went 2 for 3.

“Early on, we were tight,” Chris Brunson said. “I told the girls, ‘Loosen up and do what you do.’ ”

Derry, which left seven on base, had two runners on in the fourth, but Smithnosky induced a flyout to end the threat. In the fifth, the Trojans had another chance to score but again left two stranded after a caught stealing and a strikeout.

“Mary was hitting her spots,” Poulich said. “Seeing Mary shut people down helped our bats. We came alive.”

In between, the Vikings made it 5-0. Sophomore Sophia Smithnosky doubled home freshman courtesy runner Emma Scanlon, and sophomore Krista Brunson singled to right-center to push home Smithnosky.

“We failed offensively again,” Derry coach John DePalma said. “We didn’t get the ball in play. Our defense was good enough. We made some plays. We just didn’t hit well.”

Derry did, however, turn a pair of double plays.

Mary Smithnosky’s double scored Brunson, who opened the fifth with a two-base hit, and it was 6-0.

Junior Katie Hutter, senior Hannah Gnibus and Krista Brunson had two hits each, and Lexis Shawley doubled for the Vikings.

The coaches are good friends through travel ball and have coached each other’s high school players.

“It’s bittersweet for me,” DePalma said. “As much as we wanted this game, I am happy for Mt. Pleasant and Chris. It hasn’t been a long year. It’s been a long two years for our girls.”

Mt. Pleasant is making sure it doesn’t get ahead of itself on the bracket.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” Smithnosky said. “It doesn’t matter how good your season is. It’s about how good you are that day.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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