All's well that ends well for Mt. Pleasant softball
Everything turned out well for Mt. Pleasant on Thursday.
The Vikings won the PIAA Class 4A title in the afternoon and even Mother Nature seemed to be on the Mt. Pleasant bandwagon when the team returned from University Park.
The wet — and sometimes violent — weather took a break long enough to allow the Vikings to celebrate the victory with fans in downtown Mt. Pleasant.
“It was like the clouds broke up enough to get our parade through,” said Vikings coach Lauren Shaheen. “There was enough time for the girls to have brief speeches and, five minutes after we were done, the rains came back. The day just went too well.”
And there was plenty to celebrate.
The softball program won the title in its first PIAA finals appearance, 5-3, over Tunkhannock at Penn State's Nittany Lions Park.
It was the school's first state team title. When the football team won WPIAL titles in 1983 and '86, there were no state playoffs. Likewise, when the baseball team won the WPIAL in 1970, the season stopped there.
One thing that will make Thursday's game go down in Westmoreland County folklore was the way the Vikings won it.
Down 5-2, Tunkhannock loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning and one out in the sixth. Sophomore pitcher Caroline Alincic navigated through the threats, allowing the Tigers only one run in those situations.
In the fifth, Tunkhannock cleanup hitter Jena Simmons took a called third strike. While it was just the first out, it seemed to ease the tension for Mt. Pleasant.
“Strikeouts have a meaning when you're in the lead,” Shaheen said. “Caroline was a different pitcher after that. We had a lot of work to do, but she stepped up with that type of strikeout, and our infield had to follow that.”
It was Alincic's first — and only — strikeout of the game.
In the sixth, center fielder Ava Gnibus made a shoestring catch with the bases loaded. The sacrifice fly scored a run, but had Gnibus misplayed the ball, Tunkhannock could have cleared the bases and tied the score.
“l knew I had to catch it or keep it in front of me,” Gnibus said. “Battling is the most fun part. You don't want it to be easy.”
“It's a fun situation to be in,” Alincic said. “The fielders I have are incredible players, and I knew they could do it.”
The future remains bright for the program as the Vikings will lose only one senior starter, Nikki Klejka.
As for the immediate future, the summer of fun and milestones will continue.
Assistant coach Allison Homulka will be getting married Saturday, and coach Shaheen will be walking down the aisle July 15.
George Guido is a freelance writer.