Brentzel’s grand slam lifts No. 5 Norwin past North Hills

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 | 8:00 PM

Norwin junior Alex Brentzel picked a good time to hit her first grand slam at any level of play.

Brentzel's blast ignited a seven-run Knights outburst in the third inning as Norwin cruised to an 8-2 victory over North Hills on Tuesday afternoon at Plum.

The Class 6A opening-round victory was the first playoff win for Norwin in more than 20 seasons.

The fifth-seeded Knights (11-6) will move on to quarterfinal play later this week against No. 4 North Allegheny (14-7) at a time, date and site to be determined.

No. 12 North Hills concluded its season at 5-10.

Leah Yoder reached base for Norwin on an error to start the third. Hailee Culbertson was hit by a pitch trying to bunt, and Megan Miller laid down a perfect bunt about 15 feet along the third-base line and was safe at first.

After a prolonged battle against North Hills right-hander Anna McNickle, Brentzel smacked a 3-2 pitch over the right-center field fence after several foul balls.

“No, I haven't actually,” Brentzel said when asked if she ever hit a grand slam. “I was really just trying to foul off every ball I could until I got the right pitch. It was in the lower part of the (strike) zone.”

Yoder later drove in two runs with a single and Culbertson completed the rally with a single that drove in Shea Gillham as the Knights sent 12 batters to the plate.

“We made the most of our opportunities,” Norwin coach Brian Mesich said of the big inning. “That grand slam was huge. I knew we could hit, but putting them together at the right time was the key.”

Despite coming in to face a North Hills team that lost its last six games of the regular season, Mesich was taking nothing for granted.

“Any given day, just like Sundays in football, it means you have to bring your ‘A' game,” Mesich said. “This is southwestern Pa. softball. Last year, we made the playoffs and lost our first-round game. So this is our first step toward our next opportunity.”

“We've been really pushing hard this season,” Brentzel said. “I'm very proud of all my teammates.”

Norwin had the big lead and let senior pitcher Natalie Krzywiec and its infield do the rest.

Krzywiec struck out just one batter, but was the beneficiary of some solid fielding. The Knights' infield handled 22 of 23 chances flawlessly.

“Natalie's not a strikeout pitcher, but she lets us make the plays for her,” Mesich said. “We have the gloves. Victoria Shimko had eight putouts herself over at third base, and our outfield made some great catches near the fence.”

One bright spot for the Indians was a two-run homer by Leslie Rozanski in the seventh.

“That was a good team; they hit well,” North Hills coach Libby Gaisor said. “I thought we played well, we just came up on the wrong end. They made some great defensive plays. The balls just didn't drop for us today.”

Norwin is seeking its first WPIAL title while North Hills came into the postseason with five district softball championships.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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