Despite loss to Hempfield, Norwin having early success
The Norwin baseball team's 2013 season began in disappointing fashion when the four-time defending champions dropped a 10-0 game to Hempfield in its season opener.
This season is starting off a bit differently.
Although Norwin lost its first game of the year Monday, falling 4-3 to Hempfield in extra innings in both teams' section opener, the defeat came in a back-and-forth game and not in a blowout like last season. Through Monday, the Knights' record stood at 2-1.
“That's a quality baseball game we just had out there,” Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski said. “That's a playoff game right there. Every pitch was important. That's how you get better. We're disappointed. The kids are down because we lost, but it's a good chance to learn and be focused and beat good teams during the season.”
Liebdzinski said before the season began that the team's focus would be tested early on, particularly after struggling in that area at the beginning of last season. In addition to the 10-0 loss to Hempfield, Norwin dropped a 12-0 decision to North Allegheny in its third game.
Concentration hasn't been a problem for the Knights thus far in 2014. Norwin won its first two games of the season last week, beating Penn Hills, 9-2, and Valley, 12-2, and lived up to its biggest test of the season Monday despite the loss.
“This year, even with the tough weather and not being outside, I think this team is focused and ready to go,” Liebdzinski said. “Our first two games weren't close games, so it was good to see how they'd respond to adversity and playing a good baseball team. They were right there. They did what they were supposed to do.”
Monday's game was a back-and-forth game featuring a combined five home runs between Norwin and Hempfield. Joey DeFloria, Eric Loucks and Dom Mori all homered for Hempfield, while J.J. Matijevic and Nick Amendola hit long balls for Norwin.
The two home runs Monday continued an early-season trend for the Knights, as Matijevic, Reno Rainey and Cody Stanoszek homered in the win over Valley.
“We've had early in the year a little bit of wind blowing out,” Liebdzinski said. “Balls have been carrying.”
Monday, DeFloria gave Hempfield a 1-0 lead in the first inning with a two-out home run, but Matijevic evened the score in the bottom of the inning with a solo shot of his own. Hempfield retook its lead on Loucks' solo home run in the second inning.
The game remained 2-1 until the bottom of the seventh inning. Norwin missed out on a scoring opportunity in the fifth inning when junior Connor Perry was thrown out at the plate, and Hempfield had two of its own runners thrown out trying to score.
Norwin finally tied the game again in the bottom of the seventh when Matijevic singled with one out and moved to second when the ball rolled past Hempfield outfielder Jeff Livengood. Dom Farina followed with a run-scoring single to send the game to extra innings.
Mori's two-out, two-run homer off reliever Amendola gave Hempfield a 4-2 lead in the eighth. Amendola led off the bottom of the inning with a home run, but the Knights' rally was thwarted when Farina flew out to deep right field with Perry and Matijevic on base to end the game.
“I'm very proud of them and the way they played and battled today,” Liebdzinski said.
Norwin was scheduled to follow the game against Hempfield with back-to-back contests Tuesday and Wednesday against defending WPIAL champion North Allegheny and Connellsville, respectively. Both games ended past the deadline for this week's edition. The Knights will host Albert Gallatin at 4 p.m. Friday.
“Hopefully, (Monday's game) isn't a letdown,” Liebdzinski said. “Hopefully they say, ‘All right, NA's one of the best teams — let's go show what we can do against the No. 1-ranked team.'”