Norwin vs. Penn-Trafford softball game could determine playoffs
When the Norwin and Penn-Trafford softball teams meet Thursday afternoon, a postseason berth could be on the line — and both teams know it.
The section and traditional rivals entered the week battling for the third-place slot in Section 1-AAAA, which would earn the final playoff spot from the section. Thursday's game — the final section contest of the season for both schools — loomed large.
“It could determine which team goes,” Norwin coach Andy Phipps said. “If we beat Connellsville, and Hempfield beats Penn-Trafford (on Tuesday), that game will determine who goes to the playoffs.”
“This is our season,” Penn-Trafford coach Sam DeNillo said. “We win that one, we'll be sitting pretty nice.”
The game could be rendered meaningless for the postseason based on other results this week. Penn-Trafford (10-5, 6-4) entered the week with a one-game lead on Norwin (8-5, 5-5) for third place in the section. If the Warriors defeated second-place Hempfield on Tuesday, and Norwin lost to fifth-place Connellsville, the Warriors would clinch the final postseason berth. The two section games ended past the deadline for this week's edition.
For these rivals, however, no game against the other is truly meaningless.
The first time the teams played this season, April 11 at Norwin, the Knights came away with an 11-2 victory. Freshman Christiana Skrabek and sophomore Maddy Wensel hit first-inning home runs for Norwin in that game, and the Knights never looked back en route to the victory.
Phipps doesn't expect such an easy game this time around.
“Any time you go play at Penn-Trafford, it's a tough place to win,” Phipps said. “We played them pretty well at our place. Hopefully, we can do the same thing at their place.”
The rivals enter Thursday's game playing some of their best softball.
Since an 0-3 start, Norwin had won eight of its past 10 games heading through Monday. The Knights picked up a crucial victory last Monday, defeating Latrobe, 3-2, to give the first-place Wildcats their first section loss of the season.
“We knew our only chance at the postseason (was to) either get a win against Latrobe or Hempfield,” Phipps said.
“We got down in that game early and pretty much shut Latrobe down after the first inning. We played a really solid game, especially pitching and defensively.”
After a 7-3 loss to Hempfield last Tuesday, the Knights responded by beating Mt. Pleasant, 9-4, in a nonsection game Friday and McKeesport, 6-3, Monday.
“We were probably the longest shot possible starting the year out 0-3 in the section,” Phipps said. “Now, to give ourselves a chance to make the postseason is really important to us. I think the girls are starting to feel pretty confident. Even in the games where we've been down, they don't seem to get down on themselves, and they seem to battle back and find a way to win.”
Penn-Trafford is picking up its play, as well. The Warriors had won six of seven games since that loss to Norwin, and they outscored Kiski, Franklin Regional, Plum and Yough by a combined 28-4 in four wins over the past week.
Outside of an 11-0 loss to Latrobe on April 18, DeNillo believes his team is playing very well.
“We usually keep our errors down,” he said. “I think the girls are playing well together. They're starting to click, and I think this is the right time to do it.”
Whichever team ends up making the postseason, the coaches believe they have a chance to make some noise against their first-round opponent.
Phipps hopes it's his team that gets in.
“If we can get to the playoffs in that (No. 3) spot, I don't care who they put us up against in the first round,” he said. “We have a team that can play with anybody on any given day. We've got to find a way to squeak in.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.