WPIAL champ Mt. Pleasant hopes to carry momentum into PIAA playoffs

Saturday, June 5, 2021 | 6:27 PM

Mt. Pleasant won its second WPIAL softball title with a relentless, rapid-fire offensive attack. Frozen ropes and gap shots. Doubles off the wall.

The Vikings touched all the bases.

“We practiced hitting off tees to get ready for (Ellwood City pitcher Julia Nardone),” Vikings senior third baseman Haylie Brunson said. “We try to hit those gap shots. It feels amazing to (win the WPIAL), but we’re not done yet.”

The Vikings (17-3) will try to carry the momentum and firepower into the PIAA playoffs, set to begin Monday when they face District 6 runner-up Bald Eagle Area (16-3) at 3 p.m. at Peterswood Park in Venetia..

Mt. Pleasant won a WPIAL Class 3A title in 2016 and captured a PIAA 4A championship a year later. This year’s team wants district and state gold to happen in the same year.

With the discomfort from a WPIAL runner-up finish in 2019 behind the program, the palate is clean and the next goal is clear: win four more games.

“Losing two years ago really chewed on us,” coach Chris Brunson said. “It really made them work hard, and they made it a point to get here again.”

Mt. Pleasant didn’t overdo it celebrating after it wrecked Ellwood City, 15-0, in five innings Wednesday at Cal (Pa.) for its second title in five years.

The cheers and hugs were more businesslike than impromptu, more expected to happen than stumbled upon.

“We weren’t juicy after we won,” Chris Brunson said. “There wasn’t a dog pile. The big goal is to be there at the end (of the state tournament), and that’s our next challenge.”

Mt. Pleasant had 10 doubles and 12 extra-base hits in the WPIAL final.

“It was something to check off our list,” Pitt commit Haylie Brunson said of the WPIAL win. “Hopefully, it’s a stepping stone to a state title.”

Sophomore second baseman Sophia Smithnosky went 4 for 4 with two doubles, a triple and three RBIs, while Haylie Brunson had three doubles and three RBIs. Senior shortstop Hannah Gnibus went 3 for 4 with two doubles and three runs scored, and senior first baseman Courtney Poulich hit a two-run homer.

“Everybody contributed offensively,” coach Brunson said. “That’s the way they have been: be selfless and help the team.”

The top-seeded Vikings lived up to the hype but did not cheat the moment. A police and fire truck escort back into town along Route 31 reminded them of the significance of the victory and made them crave more.

“This is one of those things we’ve talked since these girls were in sixth and seventh grade,” Chris Brunson said. “It means so much to all of us. It’s hard to put into words. (Hempfield) coach (Bob) Kalp told me to make sure I stop and enjoy this because it goes by quickly. I plan to do that.”

Brunson said the win can be dedicated to a former friend, alum and longtime supporter of Mt. Pleasant sports, late state Rep. Mike Reese, who died in January.

The team wears T-shirts with Reese’s old football number, 12, on them.

“This one’s for Mike,” he said. “He helped us today.”

Senior pitcher Mary Smithnosky, who has been vital to the team in the circle and at the plate, said perspective is the key, and not looking too far ahead.

“It’s one day at a time,” said Smithnosky, who is 3-0 in the playoffs with three shutouts. “We want to let (the WPIAL title) sink in. After graduation and all that palooza, we can (focus on states).”

The seniors graduated Friday.

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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