Softball a family affair for PIAA champion Mt. Pleasant

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Saturday, June 19, 2021 | 4:05 PM


UNIVERSITY PARK — Mt. Pleasant took extra time to board the team bus for the ride home Friday from Penn State after the Vikings won the PIAA Class 3A softball championship.

A large contingent gathered for photos with the trophy.

Coach Chris Brunson tried to direct traffic, but seemed overwhelmed by moms and dads, aunts and uncles, cousins and even grandparents who made the trip to Beard Field to see the Vikings rally past Mid Valley, 5-3, for their second state title.

Not that he cared. This was pure joy wrapped in organized chaos — with flash bulbs.

Everbody wanted in on the action.

“I couldn’t wait to see my dad … my grandma came up to see us play, too,” senior pitcher Mary Smithnosky said. “(Mid Valley) had a huge crowd, but we had a lot of people here to support us, too.”

The throng of red, white and blue was in itself a snapshot of the Mt. Pleasant softball program — one big happy family, basking in their finest hour in Happy Valley.

Brunson is a WPIAL and PIAA champion, but so are his two daughters, senior second baseman Haylie and sophomore right fielder Krista. Assistant coaches Aaron Hutter and Ken Swank also celebrated with their daughters, junior center fielder Katie Hutter and junior left fielder Abby Swank.

“It means so much to us to win this (state title),” said Haylie Brunson, her eyes swimming in tears. “I know how hard my dad has worked. This is all we have talked about since I was little. He deserved this.”

Said Aaron Hutter: “It’s all about this,” reaching for his gold medal which, even for the buff assistant who weight-trains the girls, was heavier than expected.

Chris Brunson echoed those sentiments as he reflected on the team, which he literally watched grow up before his eyes.

“You think about these girls when they were 7 years old, with their pink gloves,” he said, also tearing up. “They are all like my little nieces. This is a special group.”

Watching Haylie win a state title also had the coach emotional.

“She has been through so much,” he said. “It’s my last game with Haylie. When the devil knows you’re close, he makes it hard on you. She overcame a lot to get to this point.”

In addition, two other families welcomed a second state title and another gold medal. They also squeezed in for photos. Senior shortstop Hannah Gnibus joins her sister, Ava, as a PIAA champion. Same goes for senior first baseman Courtney Poulich, whose sister, Chloe, was a state-title winner.

Ava Gnibus and Chloe Poulich started on the 2017 team that won at Penn State.

“But we won the WPIAL and state in the same year, so I have that over my sister,” Courtney Poulich said with a chuckle. “She won a WPIAL title when she was a sophomore. It’s great for us both to win.”

And don’t forget the Smithnoskys. Sophomore third baseman Sophia Smithnosky also played a key role in the title runs.

Mary Smithnosky had a postseason to remember, vaulting her name into the state’s elite. She shut out six of seven playoff opponents and only allowed three runs, all in the state final.

Those same families beat the team back to town and welcomed them with a parade into town that culminated next to the Doughboy, fire whistles and twinkling lights livening up Main Street.

Mt. Pleasant had to rally to win the PIAA title. Normally, the Vikings have an early lead with which to work.

“We got down (2-0) in the first inning, but we stayed patient,” Mary Smithnosky said. “Almighty God pulled us through.”

Mt. Pleasant will lose six seniors: Gnibus (Pitt-Johnstown), Poulich (Liberty), Brunson (Pitt), catcher Lexis Shawley and Lexi Puskar, who left after the semifinals to begin boot camp with the National Guard in Oklahoma.

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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