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Buzzer-beater lifts Norwin past Connellsville, into WPIAL playoffs

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 11:24 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Norwin's Logan Deri (10) shoots the ball past Connellsville's Trent Bauer on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 at Norwin High School. Norwin won 57-56 at the buzzer.

Norwin fans stood on the floor well after the final buzzer Tuesday night and chanted in celebration of sophomore Gage McCracken's late-game heroics that lifted the Knights to a victory and into the WPIAL boys basketball playoffs.

McCracken's basket off an inbounds pass beat the buzzer, and Norwin edged visiting Connellsville, 57-56, to clinch a postseason berth out of Section 1-AAAA.

“It's hard to describe how I'm feeling right now,” McCracken said. “I've had other chances at game-winning shots, but I've never made them before.”

Norwin (12-8, 6-5) led by as many as 12 points in the first half but watched Connellsville (10-10, 4-7) roar back to take a 55-50 lead with 2:53 left on a three-point play by Jimmy Leichliter.

But the Knights survived. After 6-foot-10 Trent Bauer fouled out for Connellsville with 45 seconds to go and the Falcons leading 55-52, McCracken, a 6-foot-1 reserve guard, tied it with a 3-pointer — his first points of the game — with 24 seconds left.

Leichliter's free throw put Connellsville back in front 56-55, and it appeared the Falcons had the game won after Alex Haas' jumper rattled out of the rim with the clock winding down. But Norwin retained possession on the out-of-bounds call, and senior Curtis Perz found McCracken open under the Norwin basket for the game-winner.

“It wasn't an easy layup by any means,” Norwin coach Lynn Washowich said. “He had to do a reverse under the hoop, and I was just saying, ‘Please go in.' ”

And it did as the final buzzer sounded, setting off a wild celebration for Norwin players and fans.

“I saw the opening there, and Curtis got me the ball in time,” McCracken said.

On his clutch 3-pointer, McCracken added: “It felt good when I let it go. I was glad to have made that one because I was missing all night.”

Perz led Norwin with 16 points, while Zac Bryan added 11. The Knights have regular-season games remaining at Penn-Trafford and at Elizabeth Forward on Friday and Saturday.

Norwin dominated Connellsville in the first half, jumping to an 11-3 lead and taking a 34-26 advantage into halftime.

But Connellsville, with Bauer scoring 14 second-half points and getting to the free-throw line with regularity in the fourth quarter, pulled even 50-50 on a pair of foul shots by the senior center, who finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Bauer's turnaround jumper moments later gave Connellsville its first lead, 52-50, before Leichliter, who led the Falcons with 20 points, made it 55-50 with a driving layup and free throw after he was fouled.

“It was a process of battling back, and we did such a great job of executing in the second half,” Connellsville coach Dan Bosnic said. “You want success for these young men so bad. Right now, it's just a sick feeling for them.”

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

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