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Last-second shot stops Norwin's bid for upset of USC

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Norwin's Matthew Stewart pulls up for two as Upper Saint Clair's Nick Staley (20) and Pete Coughlin trail the play during their first round WPIAL playoff contest on February 16, 2013 at Gateway High School in Monroeville. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Norwin's Steven Socrates drives throught the Upper Saint Clair defense during their first round WPIAL playoff contest on Feb. 16, 2013 at Gateway High School in Monroeville. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Upper Saint Clair's J.J. Conn falls over Norwin's Matthew Stewart while pursuing a loose ball during their first round WPIAL playoff contest on Feb. 16, 2013 at Gateway High School in Monroeville. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
norwin's Matthew Stewart, left, and Curtis Perz remain on the court for a moment as Upper Saint Clair celebrates its one-point victory over Norwin during their first round WPIAL playoff contest on Feb. 16, 2013 at Gateway High School in Monroeville. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

Norwin executed its game plan to perfection, but even a perfect plan is no match for making shots.

Jordan Grabowski knocked down a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining to give fourth-seeded Upper St. Clair a 57-56 win over Norwin in a WPIAL Class AAAA first-round game at Gateway High School on Saturday.

Joel Klein led all scorers with 24 points on eight of the 13 3-pointers made by USC (20-3), which advanced to face 12th-seeded Seneca Valley, a 72-41 winner over Central Catholic, in the quarterfinals this Saturday.

Though Klein had the hot hand, it was Grabowski with the ball in his hands on the final play with an option to pass or shoot on a screen-and-roll. The senior chose to pull up for the shot near the top of the arc, and he connected on only his third field goal of the game.

“Jordan didn't have one of his best games, but when it counted, I wouldn't have had it any other way,” Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer said.

“If it's late in the game, we want to get the ball in his hands, set a ball screen up top and let J.J. (Conn) and Joel (Klein) spot up. Then we just let Jordan make a decision whether he wants to take the shot or make the pass.”

Norwin (13-10) had one last chance to win and ran a play for its senior leader and Wheeling Jesuit recruit, Matt Stewart, who led the Knights with 22 points.

After a first attempt to inbound the ball was tipped away, Nick Idele threw a high, 60-foot pass that Stewart caught over two defenders with 1.3 seconds left. Stewart turned to fire an off-balance shot that hit the side of the rim and bounced away to end the 13th seed's bid to snap Upper St. Clair's winning streak, which now stands at 17.

“It would have been a tough shot for him to make, but when I saw it in the air, I thought, ‘Oh my God,' ” Holzer said. “It was only 1.3 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.”

“It looked like he had it at the end, but we needed to stay focused earlier when we had a chance to win the game,” Norwin coach Lynn Washowich said.

Curtis Perz scored 14 points, and Zach Bryan had 10 for Norwin, which outrebounded Upper St. Clair, 31-18.

The Knights used their size advantage to clog the lane and force USC to settle for outside shots. That strategy helped Norwin build a nine-point lead in the first half, but USC rallied for a 32-30 halftime lead behind Klein, who scored 12 points in the second quarter.

“Give a lot of credit to Norwin and Coach Washowich. They did everything they had to, and they deserved to win the game. We just hit a big shot at the end,” Holzer said.

“(Norwin) is a big team, and they're not just big, but thick. They made it very difficult for us to get anything inside 12 or 15 feet, but our team just finds ways to win.”

Norwin had a chance to put the game away after a pair of free throws by Bryan gave the Knights a 55-52 lead in the final minute. Klein then missed a 3-point shot, and the Knights grabbed the rebound.

The Knights tried to get the ball up the court quickly before USC could set its full-court pressure, but an outlet pass for Perz was overthrown, and the Panthers got the ball back with 22.2 seconds left.

“You've got to give them a lot of credit. They had to shoot the ball very well to beat us,” Washowich said.

“I just feel awful about the end of the game. I should have utilized the last timeout we had. We had a guy open, and we thought the game was over because we had their pressure broken. We really felt like we had the game won.”

With Norwin guarding the perimeter after the turnover, Upper St. Clair got a quick layup by Conn to cut the lead to 55-54. The Knights inbounded the ball to Stewart, who was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws, which left the window open for Grabowski's winning shot.

Despite the heartbreaking end to the contest, the Knights will be able to look back on a successful season in which the team reached the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Norwin also ended the regular season with five straight wins, including a playoff-clinching win over Penn-Trafford, the Knights' first in three years.

The team graduates only two players from this year's team, Stewart and Idele, but the contributions of those two 6-foot-5 seniors has been a sizable one.

“I guess it wasn't meant to be,” Washowich said. “I told them they should not have any regrets. They played as hard as they could play, and they executed the game plan.

“That's why we love sports so much. It's an opportunity in life to put on a performance, and they did that today. They performed, and they really gave these fans something fun to watch.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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