Bethel Park girls stage 2nd-half rally to get past Norwin in Class 6A quarterfinals

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Wednesday, February 23, 2022 | 10:13 PM


Flat and frustrated at halftime, Bethel Park reminded itself there were still 16 minutes of basketball to play. That the outcome was far from decided and it still had plenty to offer this game.

Fourth-seeded Norwin had a nine-point lead and looked to have the No. 5 Black Hawks, who didn’t make a field goal in the second quarter, right where it wanted them.

But playoff basketball can do funny things to teams. Momentum can make a sudden turn, and promise can take a nosedive.

Revitalized Bethel Park used Norwin’s best weapon against it in the second half — sound, physical defense — to rally for a 42-36 victory Wednesday night in a WPIAL Class 6A girls quarterfinal in North Huntingdon.

It was the first postseason victory for Bethel Park coach Sam Loadman, a former point guard at the school, and it came in her first attempt.

“Our defense really picked up and helped us in the second half,” Loadman said. “We took a lot of difficult shots in the first half, but they weren’t falling. We had 13 turnovers at halftime. We knew we had to change our offense and take better care of the ball. All the credit goes to our girls.”

The Black Hawks (11-9) advance to face No. 1 Mt. Lebanon (21-1) in Saturday’s semifinal at a neutral site to be determined.

Norwin, looking for back-to-back semifinal trips, is done at 15-6.

Despite more teams going to the PIAA playoffs this year, only the top four — the semifinalists — advance out of 6A.

“When we were up, we knew we couldn’t get comfortable, not with the firepower they have,” Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said. “We knew what they were capable of. We couldn’t get that counterpunch.”

Norwin, which had a full lineup after a few girls returned from injuries, led 20-11 after a nondescript first half. Norwin made the only field goal of the second quarter.

Play picked up significantly after the break, but so did Bethel Park’s pep. The Black Hawks battled for rebounds, contested shots and protected the ball.

Down by 11 early in the third, Bethel Park began to find the rhythm it lacked early. Senior Riley Miller and junior Mary Boff hit 3-pointers as the Black Hawks chipped away.

Norwin senior Brianna Zajicek made a 3 to interrupt the run, but a 9-0 spurt by the visitors followed to tie it 25-25.

Zajicek made another 3 before Boff answered to get the Black Hawks within 30-27 heading to the fourth.

In the final quarter, Bethel Park finally jumped in front for its first lead since the opening quarter.

Miller made a kick-out 3 to tie it, 34-34, before Boff tossed in a tough layup on a fast break and freshman Ella Sabatos put back a miss to give Bethel Park a 38-34 advantage with about 2 minutes, 20 seconds to play.

“Mary is someone we look to on both ends,” Loadman said. “When Emma isn’t scoring as much, she is there to pick things up.”

After Norwin’s final hoop of the season came on a lob and score by freshman Kendall Berger, the teams traded turnovers and timeouts.

Senior Emma Dziezgowski, Miller and Sabatos made free throws inside the final minute for the final difference.

“We had three slight bobbles there (in the second half),” Brozeski said. “That can change your mindset a little. It’s human nature. You start to press a little more. There is a fine line in the playoffs. Our effort was never a question.”

Dziezgowski, a Wheeling commit, came up with a key rebound after she missed a free throw with 43.9 seconds left.

Norwin missed a few shots in the interim and could not close the gap.

Boff finished with a game-high 15 points, 11 in the second half, and Dziezgowski added 10.

Miller chipped in seven.

Zajicek, an Alderson Broaddus recruit, led Norwin with 10. Seniors Maggie Race and Alyssa Laukus had seven and six, respectively, for the Lady Knights.

Bethel Park will make its fifth semifinal appearance since 2016 after falling to Mt. Lebanon in the quarterfinals last season.

“I’m big on tradition,” Loadman said. “It’s nice to keep it going.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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