Norwin girls handle Penn Hills' full-court press
Norwin's girls basketball coaches and players might have been surprised at being handed a preliminary round game in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoff, but the team didn't let the extra game become a pitfall.
The Knights put their height to good use and had little trouble breaking the pressure of Penn Hills, as 14th-seeded Norwin advanced with a 68-56 win over the Indians at Gateway High School on Friday.
Freshman Alayna Gribble scored 17 points in her postseason debut to lead Norwin (13-10), which advanced to face third-seeded Bethel Park (19-3) in the first round on Tuesday, after this edition's deadline. The Black Hawks defeated the Knights in the third game of the regular season, 64-55.
The winner of that first-round game will face the winner between No. 6 Penn-Trafford and No. 11 Plum on Friday at a site and time to be determined.
Madi Guffey had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds for Norwin, and Rachel Keto also had 14 points for the Knights, who were able to celebrate their first playoff win since 2008 after the victory.
“The girls have been working hard,” Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said. “There's been some adversity during the season, but the girls kept plugging away, and it's nice to see them get rewarded with the first playoff win in a while.”
“It feels good to win a playoff game. We did really well, I thought,” Gribble said. “We played as a team, and we competed our best.”
Jade Ely led all scorers with 26 for Penn Hills (9-14), and Gloria Schifino had 11 points and six assists for the Indians, who reached the playoffs as a fourth-place team by going 7-3 over its final 10 regular-season games.
Penn Hills caused some early troubles for Norwin with its full-court press, and Ely had a big first quarter with eight points in the opening five minutes. The Indians led, 12-10, but that would be their final advantage of the game.
Norwin countered with a proactive approach to the Indians' press, as it quickly moved the ball up the court, sometimes running a post player — usually Keto or Guffey — behind the defense completely.
The effectiveness of that quick movement set up Gribble and Amanda Batey for three-point plays near the end of the first quarter, as the Knights opened up an eight-point lead.
The lead continued to grow with Norwin's momentum carrying into the second quarter, and Delaney Arbore's runner from the right side capped a 21-2 Norwin run that gave the team a 31-14 advantage.
“We had to run our press breaker and focus on running all of our plays,” Gribble said. “We wanted to control the pace of the game.”
“We wanted to break their pressure with the pass and make sure we finished on the other end,” Brozeski said. “This was one of our better nights of the year at converting on the other end. The girls did a great job of focusing in and finishing the play.”
By halftime, the Knights had a 44-23 lead, but Penn Hills, which was ending a three-year playoff drought in Friday's game, put up more resistance in the second half.
The Indians put together a 10-4 run of their own and ended the quarter with two baskets in the final minute to close the lead to 52-41, but Norwin answered with an inside basket by Rachel DelleFemine and a 3-pointer by Gribble to start the final quarter and effectively put the game out of reach.
“We told the girls at halftime that (Penn Hills) had been in this place before,” Brozeski said. “They've had a lot of games where they've been down 10 or 12 points and came back. They don't give up, and you've got to give them a lot of credit.”
Norwin outrebounded Penn Hills, 38-30, and the Knights also finished with seven blocked shots in the contest, which was the first varsity playoff win for any of the current Knights, including second-year head coach Brozeski.
“It feels really good to move on, and I'm excited because it's the last year for our seniors, and we're doing well in the playoffs for them,” Gribble said.
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.