Buzzer-beater lifts Norwin past Connellsville, into WPIAL playoffs
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.