Norwin baseball team working through inconsistencies
Success isn't coming as easily as usual for the Norwin baseball team this season.
After posting back-to-back perfect regular seasons in 2011 and 2012, the Knights are struggling to find consistency on the mound, at the plate and in the field in 2013.
The team's struggles showed most recently in a 7-0 loss to Penn-Trafford on Thursday that dropped Norwin (5-5, 4-3) into a third-place tie in Section 2-AAAA.
The Knights followed the Penn-Trafford loss with an 8-3 win over Butler on Saturday but fell back to .500 with a 4-3 loss to Hempfield on Monday.
“I feel good about where our record is. I don't feel good about where our team is,” coach Mike Liebdzinski said. “We need to be much better. If we're going to make the playoffs and if we're going to be able to win a playoff game, we have to get much better.”
What troubles Liebdzinski is that Norwin's inconsistencies at this point extend to all aspects of the game — fielding, hitting, pitching and running the bases.
Several of those problems showed in the loss to Penn-Trafford.
The Warriors' Tyler Smith held the Knights to four hits and struck out 10 batters on his way to recording a complete-game shutout. Just three batters reached second base.
Thursday's game marked the third time this season the Knights were shut out. Though the team has exceeded the 10-run mark in four other games, Liebdzinski said hitters are struggling against better competition like Penn-Trafford and Hempfield, which beat the Knights, 10-0, April 3.
“Most of the other guys that we've had success against, they didn't locate their fastball, they got behind in the count (and) they couldn't throw their curveball for strikes,” Liebdzinski said. “So we sat on the fastball and were able to be successful. So far against a kid who can throw two pitches for strikes, we haven't done very well.”
Liebdzinski said most of the problems stem from a bad approach at the plate — taking too many strikes early instead of staying aggressive and then guessing on pitches later in at-bats.
The Knights' lone scoring threat against Penn-Trafford was thwarted when junior J.J. Matijevic was thrown out at the plate after junior Cody Stanoszek flied out to left field.
While the hitting struggled against Penn-Trafford, Liebdzinski said the pitching performed well under the circumstances. Starter Steve Socrates was charged with eight hits and five runs in two-plus innings, but Liebdzinski said he thought the junior hit some bad luck when balls found holes.
Freshman Ethan Sikora replaced Socrates and allowed two runs on five hits in three innings in his first varsity action. Freshman Nick Amendola pitched the final two innings and didn't allow a hit.
The Knights' pitchers struggled in a 15-14 loss to Franklin Regional on April 16, when Norwin blew a 9-0 lead. And with uncertainty in the rotation after No. 1 starter Noah Smith, Liebdzinski said freshmen like Amendola and Sikora could get more action.
“(Sikora) did outstanding,” Liebdzinski said. “Amendola, another freshman, did great again, too. We'll keep using them. If they keep performing, we'll keep throwing them out there.”
While Liebdzinski wasn't pleased with the performance against Penn-Trafford, the team stands in relatively good position for the playoffs.
With their 4-3 section record, the Knights are tied with Latrobe for third place and are one game up on fifth-place Connellsville and two games ahead of sixth-place Kiski. Norwin beat all three teams earlier this season.
The stretch run begins Thursday, as the Knights will travel to play Connellsville. Norwin will play at Latrobe Monday and host Kiski on May 3.
And the Knights' coach also believes there's time for the team to work through its inconsistencies. Norwin has seven regular-season games remaining, including five section contests.
“We thought (before the season) we'd have a pretty strong lineup offensively, and I still think we have the capabilities of doing that,” Liebdzinski said. “We thought we would have to find some pitching – we have enough guys that we thought a couple would step up. Hopefully, there's still time for that. I think we're talented enough that we'll come around and be OK.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.