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Hot offense keys Norwin turnaround

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 11:45 a.m.
Doug Gulasy | Norwin Star
Norwin freshman Christiana Skrabak is congratulated by the third-base coach after hitting a home run against Penn-Trafford in the bottom of the first inning April 11, 2013, at Norwin High School. The Knights won, 11-2.
Doug Gulasy | Norwin Star
Norwin freshman Christiana Skrabak connects on a pitch against Penn-Trafford in a game Thursday, April 18, 2013, at Norwin High School. The Knights beat their section rival, 11-2.

Norwin softball coach Andy Phipps thought his team was hitting well the first three games of the season. Those hits just weren't coming at the right time, however, as the Knights stumbled to an 0-3 start ­— with two defeats coming by one run.

Consider that trend reversed.

Propelled by consistent ­— and timely — hitting, Norwin swept two conference games last week to even its record at 3-3 heading into section action against Kiski on Tuesday.

“The last few games, when we had girls on base, the next girl who came up in the lineup was able to move the girls in,” Phipps said. “That was huge. We actually had solid hits from all nine batters the last few games.”

After beating Gateway, 6-2, on April 5 for its first victory of the season, Norwin (3-3, 2-3) followed with conference wins over Connellsville (11-4) and Penn-Trafford (11-2) last week. The defending section champions moved into a fourth-place tie in Section 1-AAAA with Franklin Regional.

Sophomore catcher Maddy Wensel led the offensive onslaught against Connellsville and Penn-Trafford. The cleanup hitter recorded four hits against the Falcons, including a home run and double, and followed that by going 2 for 2 with another homer and double against Penn-Trafford on Thursday.

Wensel leads the team with a .667 batting average, six doubles and nine runs batted in. Her two home runs are tied for best on the team.

“I just go up there with a clear mind, and I like killing the ball,” Wensel said. “I feel like there's a really big responsibility (hitting cleanup), and there is a lot of pressure on it — but the girls have my back, and they support me so much.”

That teammate support includes a collective batting effort. Five players outside of Wensel were hitting .300 or better heading into this week: seniors Nikki Ingel (.550), Cassidy Chappell (.444) and Lauren Long (.316); junior Lyndsay Robinson (.409); and freshman Christiana Skrabak (.444).

Phipps said the production from Long at the bottom of the order has been significant, as has the play of Skrabak out of the leadoff spot. Skrabak led off two of the Knights' past three games with home runs.

“You can't ask for a better start than that, especially out of a freshman,” he said.

Wensel said the improved hitting came because of greater team focus. At 2-3 in the section, the Knights trail section leader Latrobe by three games, second-place Hempfield by one-and-a-half games and third-place Penn-Trafford by one game.

“The first three losses put us in a tough spot in the section as far as making the playoffs,” Wensel said. “But going into (last week's) games, we just had to focus in more, and I think we did really well with that.”

The Knights planned to finish an earlier suspended game against Kiski on Tuesday and follow it with another game against the Cavaliers later that afternoon. The games ended past the deadline for this week's edition.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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