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Norwin softball team continues to struggle in early season

| Friday, April 5, 2013, 12:30 a.m.

A year ago Norwin used a home upset victory over perennial powerhouse Hempfield to vault itself into contention for the Section 1-AAAA title.

Considering how bright the team's future looked heading into 2013, something obviously has gone amiss.

Even though the Knights have most of their key components back, they have struggled to find the chemistry that helped them win a share of the section championship. Norwin (0-3, 0-3) again failed to find the right formula when it hosted the Spartans for the first of their two meetings. Kasey Kulick went 4 for 4 with two doubles, a home run and six RBI to lead Hempfield (2-1, 1-0) to a 12-4 victory.

“I don't think there's been a dramatic change, but last year we were able to work out the bugs in preseason games and, by the time we got into the section, were able to get out minor mental mistakes out of the way,” Norwin coach Andy Phipps said. “We've played three strong teams (including losses to Latrobe and Franklin Regional), and before (Hempfield) we hadn't made any errors. We made mental mistakes, and this time we made errors.”

Even though Norwin took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to a two-run double from sophomore catcher Maddy Wensel, it couldn't generate enough clutch hits to stay with a Hempfield squad that was clicking despite only limited plate appearances against live pitching. Eight of the nine Spartans starters had at least one hit and scored at least one run against the three Knights pitchers.

“This wasn't our style of game because we're not usually going to put double-digit numbers on the board against a decent team, and Norwin is a decent team,” Hempfield coach Bob Kalp said. “It's kind of a strange game. They hit the crap out of the ball, and both sides hit the ball hard, but we were fortunate that we had some runners on base and they did not.”

Hempfield blew the game open in the top o the second when it sent 12 batters to the plate and scored six runs against Norwin starter Maddy Miller. Miller was pulled after 1 23 innings for senior Jamie Robinson, who is still recovering from arm problems that slowed her at the end of last season when she won 15 games.

“At this point Maddy is our No. 1 pitcher, and because of Jamie's shoulder injury, she didn't really pitch a lot in the offseason. But we're going to start relying on her more and more, but Maddy is still our No. 1,” Phipps said. “What she has to adjust to right now is that we like to rely on location, and she's used to calling her own pitches. She just has to believe in us when it comes to the location, and Jamie did it last year and won 15 games.”

Hempfield starter Hope Pehrson had no problem putting the ball where she needed to when she needed to. The Seton Hill recruit, who also had arm problems at the end of 2012 despite pitching the Spartans into the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game, allowed three earned runs and struck out five.

Because she is coming back from the injury, however, Pehrson will not pitch against Canon-McMillan on Friday in a rematch of the 2012 finals, a 4-1 Big Macs win at California (Pa.) University.

Despite the fact that Norwin is winless in the section, the team is confident that enough time remains to right the ship and at least finish in one of the top three spots to earn another WPIAL playoff berth.

“I truly believe that the team that wins this section is going to have three or four losses anyway, and I don't think that anybody is going to run the table in this section because it's too strong,” Phipps said. “Hopefully we've got out losses out of the way because we have a strong group of girls.”

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