Norwin holds off late Connellsville charge to remain in playoff position
Thursday's baseball game between Norwin and host Connellsville had plenty on the line — only one game separates the teams in the Section 2-AAAA standings.
The Knights (6-5, 5-3) built a 5-0 lead, then survived a last-inning Connellsville rally to hold on for a 5-4 win to remain tied with Latrobe for the third and final playoff spot in the section.
For the Falcons (5-5, 3-5), the loss seriously damages their hopes of qualifying for the postseason.
“We didn't play as well as we would have liked,” Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski said. “But a win is a win, and I'll take it.”
The Knights took advantage of some early Connellsville errors. In the first inning, J.J. Matijevic doubled and scored on an error. Then in the third, an error on a ground ball opened the door for a three-run inning, as Matijevic singled in a run before Cody Stanoszek singled to knock in a pair, making it 4-0. Norwin's first four runs were unearned against Connellsville starter Ryan Huey, who was tagged with the loss.
“We gave them a bit of a head start,” Connellsville coach Rob Orndorff said. “That makes it tough on the pitcher, but I thought Ryan Huey did a good job. He did a nice job of controlling their running game, but we gave them a run here and some runs there, and we had to play catch-up.”
Playing catch-up proved to be a tall order against Norwin starter Noah Smith. The right-hander pitched six strong innings and gave up just one unearned run on three hits. He struck out eight and walked three.
“I don't think he had his best stuff, but he did a nice job,” Liebdzinski said.
Smith helped himself with the bat as he singled in a run in the sixth to make it 5-0. Connellsville got that run back in the bottom of the inning as J.T. Stevenson drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to make it 5-1.
The game stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh. Smith was lifted after throwing 100 pitches, and the Falcons were able to get some offense going against reliever Matijevic.
After Grant Witt walked, pinch-hitter Ty Henry singled before Brock Bonadio walked. Evan Onusko singled in a pair of runs to make it 5-3 before Cameron Bernhardt was hit by a pitch to load the bases with nobody out.
Matijevic was replaced by Kevin Kuhn, and Kuhn delivered.
The Falcons pulled to within a run, but it came when Norwin turned a double play. And with the tying run at third base, Kuhn got a game-ending ground out to secure the save and preserve the win for Smith.
“Kevin Kuhn came on in a real tough spot, and the defense made the plays behind him and we were able to get out of it,” Liebdzinski said.
For the Falcons, it was a nice rally, but it wasn't enough.
“The kids didn't sit back,” Orndorff said. “We played seven innings, and we didn't quit. We battled, but we came up short.”
Jason Black is the Local Sports Editor of the Daily Courier. He can be reached at email@example.com.