116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Payton Bruner has made an indelible impact on Mount Mercy’s softball program.
From the pinch-hit double in her first at-bat as a freshman to becoming the Mustangs’ all-time hits leader earlier this season, Bruner has been special.
“She’s the best player I’ve ever had here,” Mount Mercy head coach Larry Yoder said. “I’ll say it out loud. She’s the most complete player. She does everything.”
Bruner had two hits, drove in a run, scored and made one of the defensive gems behind starter Jayna Witzany, helping fourth-seeded Mount Mercy drop No. 8 William Penn, 7-0, in the semifinals of the Heart of America Athletic Conference tournament Friday at Busse Field of Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex.
The Mustangs advanced to the winner’s bracket final Saturday at 10 a.m.
“It feels good. We’re playing well,” said Bruner, who came back for a fifth season after last year was canceled. “I am sad, obviously, that my career is coming to an end, but I’ve really accomplished a lot here at Mount Mercy.
“We’ve been doing great in the tournament. It feels good to go out with a bang. I’ve done all I could I’m happy with it.”
Bruner and Morgan Braughton led the Mustangs with two hits apiece, giving Bruner 71 hits this season and increasing her career hits mark to 242. A mark she set in March and could have set last season had it not been for the pandemic.
“To be at the top with all the great players feels good,” Bruner said. “I didn’t even realize I was close to getting it until COVID hit and I was nine away. I came back to get it. Got it done.”
The shortstop closed the top of the first, fielding a shot deflected off Witzany’s glove and throwing the batter out thanks to a quick tag from first baseman Emily Oler. Then, she led off with a single in the Mustangs’ two-run first aided by a William Penn throwing error.
“She sets the tone,” Yoder said. “She started the game with a hit and it just lifts everybody up. We know she’s going to make great plays on defense. She’s always going to give you a good at-bat and everyone follows suit. She’s super important.”
Bruner, who leads Mount Mercy with 38 RBIs, 126 total bases, 52 runs and 22 stolen bases, had an RBI single in the three-run second and scored on Jess Heick’s single, putting the Mustangs comfortably ahead 5-0 after two.
To think, she could have gone a different direction after playing volleyball, basketball and softball at Cedar Rapids Washington. She actually signed with the Mustangs to play basketball and softball, but she decided to turn her athletic focus solely on the diamond.
“I just kind of found softball as my main thing that I really like to do,” said Bruner, noting her mom was a multisport athlete but not a softball player. “I started club ball and stuck with it. It was something that I found that I was good at and I really liked it.”
Mount Mercy (31-13) received another strong outing from Witzany. She tossed her second straight shutout, striking out 10. She has fanned 19 in two tournament games. She benefited from stellar defense. Outfielders Natalie Tecklenburg and Braughton made two diving catches to prevent a run and Heick turned a key double play to end a thwart a threat in the sixth.
“As Jayna would say they have her back,” Yoder said. “A lot of good defensive plays.
“It’s easier when you get a couple runs early. Take some of the pressure off and let you play more at ease.”
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