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Norwin making strong bid for section title

| Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Norwin's Hannah O'Block bobbles a ball during a softball game against Hempfield on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, at Hempfield Area High School. Norwin won 13-10.

The Norwin softball team is doing everything it can to avoid a repeat of the end of the 2013 season.

Needing a win in their final section game last year to clinch a WPIAL playoff berth, the Knights instead lost, 9-1, to section rival Penn-Trafford.

This season, Norwin is trying to lock down a postseason spot well in advance. The Knights (9-2, 7-2) were tied for first place in the section through Monday with Penn-Trafford (12-2, 7-2) — one game ahead of Hempfield (9-5, 6-3) and Latrobe (9-3, 6-3). The top three teams in each section qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.

Norwin took an important step in its bid to make the postseason last week, beating Hempfield, 8-4, to complete a sweep of the Spartans in section play.

“Every game's such an important game now for us,” coach Andy Phipps said. “Looking at our section, beating Hempfield gave us not only an opportunity to make the playoffs if we play good the rest of the year, but also the chance to win the section title. That's what our goal was going in: We wanted to win the section title again. And if we play the way we're capable of playing and the way we have been playing, we have a good shot.”

Phipps said the Knights are playing well of late. Since a 12-2 loss to Penn-Trafford on April 10, Norwin had won four of five games, with the only defeat a 2-1 loss to Latrobe last week.

A focus on the basics of the game is helping the team, Phipps said.

“We tried to just focus more on practicing as a team and getting our hitting back to par and not making as many errors, basically on having more fun and playing our game,” junior Hannah O'Block said.

In the victory over Hempfield, the Knights jumped out to an 8-0 lead through four innings before holding off the Spartans' late rally. Danielle Chorba, Christiana Skrabak and Maddy Wensel all contributed doubles in the win.

“The girls were really calm,” Phipps said. “They were really ready to play, and as the game started, we came out and got a good lead.

“We had some great plays in the game. A couple of the girls really laid out for the ball. It was 100 percent effort from everybody on the team.”

Norwin is getting a strong pitching effort recently from O'Block. The junior had started each of the past four games and was pitching well, Phipps said.

“I've just been trying to do as well as I can, and I think I've been doing a pretty good job,” O'Block said. “I've just been trying to keep focused on the game and not rattle myself with how good the other team is. (I've been trying) to play my game, and it's been working out very well for me.”

With Norwin and Penn-Trafford tied atop the section, next week's meeting with the Warriors looms large for the Knights in their bid for their second section title in three seasons. But Phipps didn't want the team to look too far ahead, as Norwin also had to play games against Connellsville and Kiski.

“You can't look past either one of those teams,” Phipps said. “Connellsville upset Latrobe, and Kiski is a tough team to play. They're one of those teams that we (typically) split with them. We haven't been able to sweep them. It's one of those games that's really important for us.”

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

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