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Norwin softball motivated after non-playoff year

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Norwin catcher Maddy Wensel throws down to second between innings during their April 2, 2013 contest versus Franklin Regional in Murrysville.

If the 2012 season qualified as the Norwin softball team's breakthrough, 2013 represented more of a step back.

After winning a share of the first section championship in school history two seasons ago, the Knights fell short of that last year, finishing in fourth place in Section 1-AAAA and missing out on the WPIAL playoffs.

The disappointment from last season's finish is motivating the Knights heading into 2014.

“My freshman year was awesome, making it to the playoffs and such,” junior catcher Maddy Wensel said. “But losing our big seniors from last year, it really has given us the motivation to step up and fill their spots. We have some great young talent coming up, so it'll be nice to see how they do. But we're really excited, and we're really pushing this year.”

Last season, an 0-3 start in section play put Norwin on its heels early. The Knights won six of their next eight section games to climb back into postseason contention before getting eliminated in a 9-1 loss to Penn-Trafford in a winner-take-all game for the final playoff spot.

“It was a huge disappointment for everybody, the coaches through the girls, knowing we had a quality team that could have beat some of the teams in the playoffs,” Norwin coach Andy Phipps said. “We lost a couple key games that we never should have lost … we just did not play well in a couple games, and ultimately we were one game short of the playoffs. We've got to make sure we play every game, no matter what the weather is, as if it's a playoff game this year.”

Though Norwin lost key starters such as all-section centerfielder Nikki Ingel and four-year shortstop Cassidy Chappell, the Knights still have plenty of experience to fall back on this season.

Wensel, a two-time all-section selection, returns at catcher after batting .525 with four home runs last season. Sophomore Christiana Skrabak, one of the team's top hitters in 2013, will move to shortstop in Chappell's absence. Seniors Nikki Berardinelli and Lindsey Robinson are returning starters at first and second base, respectively.

“As far as the infield goes, I think we're going to be really strong,” Phipps said, adding that several players are competing for playing time in the outfield.

After spending the majority of last season with one primary pitcher, Norwin boasts more depth at that position. Senior Maddy Miller returns and will be joined by junior Hannah O'Block. Phipps said freshmen Danielle Churba and Johnna Karas may also pitch, and both could earn spots in the regular lineup as well.

“We're always helping each other out,” Miller said. “If a pitch isn't working, we're always asking each other what's going on. Obviously, it's going to be easier for somebody else to pick it up than you. We just try to help each other out and make ourselves better.”

Norwin opened the season Friday at Penn Hills and was scheduled to open section play Monday against Latrobe. The Knights were scheduled to travel to Kiski on Wednesday before hosting nonsection opponent Bethel Park at 4 p.m. Friday.

“We look back to two years ago, losing the first game to Canon-Mac, and we're using that as a building block — trying to look back (and see) what we did well, what we didn't do well,” Wensel said. “That's our goal; The section comes first, but then there's the playoffs. We're setting some high expectations this year.”

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

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