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Slumping Norwin boys seek return to early-season form

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 11:04 p.m.
Norwin forward Matthew Stewart drives on Hempfield Area guard Kason Harrell during their January 18, 2013 contest in Hempfield Township. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

That fast start by the Norwin High School boys basketball team has shifted into a crawl.

After a 5-0 start, the Knights are searching for victories. The latest setback, a 65-56 nonsection loss to Franklin Regional on Wednesday, was their fifth in a row and seventh in the past nine games.

Norwin (8-9, 5-4) was the early leader in Section 1-AAAA by prevailing primarily in close games. But sometimes, you don't get the bounces, coach Lynn Washowich said.

“We were 5-0 by winning close games, and it was great to be 5-0,” he said. “If you look at our first three section wins, we beat Hempfield and Latrobe each by one possession and Kiski Area by three, and they probably had the worst shooting night they've had.”

Norwin won that game, 37-28, in overtime on Dec. 18, but the Knights have since dropped into a tie with Penn-Trafford for fourth place in the section. The top four teams qualify for the playoffs.

“They're all games that we won early that we could have lost, and now you're seeing a reversal with our guys,” Washowich said. “We just have to stay committed. Every game is going to be close. The kids know it, and they're staying committed.”

Matt Stewart's 20 points couldn't carry Norwin in its latest effort against Franklin Regional. Curtis Perz added 11 and Nick Idele had 10 for the Knights, who have five regular-season games remaining, beginning Friday against visiting Albert Gallatin (1-18, 1-10).

Stewart and Idele are the team's only seniors, giving Norwin a good nucleus for the future. But both have been major sources of offense. The 6-foot-5 Stewart, the team's second-leading scorer at 14.9 points per game, is headed to Division II Wheeling Jesuit next season.

“He's a big, strong, physical kid with a very high skill level,” Washowich said. “We've got a nice 1-2, inside-out punch with Matt and (sophomore point guard) Curtis Perz. But to reach our potential, we need to get double digits from a third guy on a regular basis.”

Perz's scoring average of 15.8 points per game leads the team.

“Opponents have recognized the effectiveness of those two players, and our other kids are capable,” Washowich said. “But they're relying on those two kids to carry us.”

Close outcomes are nothing new to Washowich's teams. In 10 previous seasons at Norwin, he's led the program to eight WPIAL playoff appearances. But the Knights have made early exits more times than not, including 2012, when they lost a late lead and bowed to McKeesport in the preliminary round.

“It was a game that still stings,” Washowich said.

His 2008 team reached the semifinals and lost to Moon after clinging to a halftime lead.

Despite the team's current struggles, Washowich is hopeful the Knights can make a return to the postseason. The remainder of the schedule appears favorable.

“It's important to win those games, and if we qualify for the postseason,” he said, “we could be very successful.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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