Canon-McMillan baseball overpowers Norwin behind Andrew Kocan’s 2 homers

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Thursday, April 13, 2023 | 8:57 PM


Brawny and powerful, Andrew Kocan is an intimidating presence at the plate.

The Canon-McMillan senior first baseman — all 6-foot-4, 285 pounds of him — is headed to Virginia Military Institute to play football.

An offensive lineman and defensive end, Kocan did the lead-blocking for the baseball team Thursday, launching a pair of home runs and driving in four runs in an 8-1 victory at Norwin in the finale of a three-game Section 2-6A series.

“I didn’t hit well in the first two games (of the series), so I was looking to put the bat on the ball,” said Kocan, who has three homers this season. “It’s always good when you can win a series.”

Canon-McMillan (7-2, 5-1), which is tied for first in the section with Hempfield (7-3, 5-1), also benefited from the pitching of senior Pitt commit Austyn Winkleblech, who tossed a complete game on 101 pitches, behind a playmaking defense.

He struck out four and did not walk a batter.

“We know what kind of power Andrew has,” Big Macs coach Brendon Steele said. “And we know what to expect from Austyn when he is on his game. He commands the mound and always throws strikes.”

Norwin (3-7, 3-3) outhit the Big Macs, 8-7, but left seven on base and didn’t score until the seventh.

“Winkleblech has a very good fastball, and his offspeed stuff was around the plate,” Norwin coach Craig Spisak said. “He keeps you honest. (Canon-McMillan) made some great defensive plays. Pitching and defense is what works.”

An unexpected pitching change greeted Spisak in the top of the third.

Starter Matt Rivera, a sophomore, walked off the mound and into the dugout while holding his right elbow.

He had worked a 3-0 count to Winkleblech, the leadoff batter, but could not go any longer and was replaced by senior Jake Auld.

Spisak said Rivera, who did not return, may have strained a tendon in the elbow of his throwing arm but did not have official word on the injury.

The in-game injury threw the Knights for a loop, but Auld settled in.

“We’re hoping it isn’t anything serious,” Spisak said of Rivera. “It was gut-check time for us. Jake came in and gutted it out. We worked through it.”

Norwin was down 1-0 at the time of the switch after Kocan’s second-inning homer to deep center. The Big Macs took advantage of three walks and a wild pitch in the third to take a 2-0 lead.

It stayed that way until the fifth, when Kocan clubbed his second homer, a three-run shot to left, to make it 5-0.

The towering ball looked harmless as it hung in the air, but it carried into the woods beyond the fence.

“That was actually a hit-and-run,” Kocan said. “I thought I hit a deep fly ball, but it went out.”

Winkleblech did not retire the side until the sixth. His defense was especially impressive on back-to-back plays in the fourth.

Senior Lucas Dantry made a diving snag at second to rob Auld of a leadoff hit, and junior Cam Russell ran down a drive to center by junior Nolan Ryan and made a sliding catch.

Dantry added to the lead with an RBI double in the seventh, before a passed ball and a groundout produced two more for a 8-0 advantage.

Norwin finally broke through in the seventh, but it was too late.

Sophomore shortstop Nate Silberman, a recent varsity call-up, singled. Two batters later, senior center fielder Justin Weaver knocked him in with a two-out single to break up the shutout.

Weaver was 2 for 3 with a double.

Winkelblech struck out senior leadoff man Ryan Mesko with his 101st pitch.

“We were ready to make a change, but we knew Austyn could finish it,” Steele said.

Thursday’s game was far different from the first two games. Canon-McMillan outslugged the Knights in the opener, 16-13, at Wild Things Park in Washington, before Norwin responded with a 7-5 win.

An opener riddled with walks and scratchy pitching was nothing like the crisp final game, at least as far as Canon-McMillan was concerned.

“This was definitely different than the first two,” Spisak said. “I still think it’s a wide-open section. We’re a better team now than when we started 0-4. We’re a work in progress and we’re learning, but these kids have no quit in them. They love to play ball. We’ll keep climbing the ladder.”

Norwin played without injured junior catcher Ty Cupp.

“Norwin has a great hitting team,” Steele said. “They hit the ball where it’s at and they are well coached.

“The three-game series (format) is a work in progress. Your goal is to win the series, with a stretch goal to sweep.”

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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