Solid pitching, defense and just enough hitting lift Mt. Pleasant softball into final

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019 | 8:31 PM


Center fielder Sydney Kanuch made a terrific, over-the-shoulder catch to snap closed the sixth inning.

Third baseman Haylie Brunson clubbed a solo home run to deep right.

Fast-armed pitcher Carolyn Alincic allowed just four hits against a team that made decent contact against her.

And coach Chris Brunson almost lost his voice.

These are things nationally ranked softball teams do on big stages.

Top-seeded Mt. Pleasant, which cracked the MaxPreps Top 25 at No. 18 this week, made sure to maintain its lofty status with a 2-0 victory over No. 4 Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals Wednesday at Seton Hill.

The Vikings (17-0) did just enough offensively, and Alincic, the lone senior on the team, was backed by a sure-handed defense. The Vikings advance to the title game to play No. 2 Elizabeth Forward (16-3) next Wednesday or Thursday at time to be determined at Peterswood Park in Peters Township.

Mt. Pleasant won a WPIAL Class 3A title in 2016 and a PIAA 4A title in ’17. But the team was stopped short in the WPIAL semifinals the last two years.

“I expected it to come down to one or two runs,” said Alincic, who moved to 13-0 but struck out only five. “I know a couple of the girls on TJ. They’re fast and powerful. They have really good reputations in the travel ball world. I knew it was going to be one of the best games we’d have all season. It’s definitely a game that’s going to get us ready for states and the (WPIAL championship).”

Thomas Jefferson (15-4) will play No. 3 Knoch (17-2) in the third-place game Tuesday (time, site TBD). The winner goes to the state tournament.

Mt. Pleasant is automatically in the PIAA bracket with the win.

“We talked about goals, and getting to the state tournament was a big one,” Chris Brunson said. “Now, next week we can have some fun.”

Alincic admitted the national ranking buzz hadn’t quite settled around the clubhouse.

“Right before the game, I told them, we got that ranking, we’re nationally ranked,” said Alincic, a Morehead State commit. “We gotta live up to it. There were a lot of pregame jitters. … It definitely factored into our playing today.”

Mt. Pleasant managed only three hits off Jaguars starter Bella Bucy, but two of them were enough to stir up runs.

Sophomore Mary Smithnosky gave Mt. Pleasant a 1-0 lead in the fourth with a sinking single to center that dropped in front of a diving Claire Whalen, allowing sophomore Hannah Gnibus to score from third.

The score stayed that way until the home half of the sixth, but not before Kanuch made the play of the day with her grab off a well-hit ball by Lillian Rockwell.

“She’s insane,” Alincic said of her junior teammate and her glove.

Looking for a more comfortable cushion, the Vikings added a run on Brunson’s solo blast to right with two outs. The sophomore Louisiana-Lafayette recruit’s fourth homer of the season made it 2-0, and Alincic chalked up a 1-2-3 seventh for the victory.

“High pitches are my pitches,” Haylie Brunson said. “I was just trying to drive the ball and stay with my process.

“We were really trying to see pitches and drive the ball, keep our nerves under control and do our thing.”

Chris Brunson was thrilled to see the ball leave the park.

“I am being selfish because that’s my kid,” coach Brunson said. “But I had borderline tears in my eyes when that ball went out. We just talked about going up there and being you. Put a good swing on a high one. That’s what she did.”

Thomas Jefferson got a runner to third in the first. Abigail Chalpvich led off the game with a single. But the Jaguars had only three more hits as Alincic set down 10 straight.

“I trust all of (my fielders),” Alincic said. “They are amazing players all around. WPIALs started, we’re starting to mesh a lot more, and the atmosphere is getting really good.”

Haylie Brunson said Alincic’s playoff experience helped to settle shaky nerves.

“Our leadership was great,” she said. “(Alincic) showed us the expectations that were put on us now, and we just wanted to play our hearts out.”

Bucy struck out four and walked one. The Jaguars’ 3-4-5 hitters went 0 for 9.

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

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