Defense leads Norwin girls past Mt. Lebanon, rematch with North Allegheny awaits

Friday, February 22, 2019 | 10:13 PM

Norwin girls basketball coach Brian Brozeski walked down the hallway outside of the Knights locker room Friday night when out of nowhere a loud roar emerged from the locker room as the door closed. Brozeski smiled.

“That’s a nice sound to hear,” Brozeski said.

Brozeski had plenty to smile about. His Knights picked up a win the hard way — defensively. Backed by a tough defensive effort and some clutch shooting along the way, No. 3 seed Norwin downed No. 6 Mt. Lebanon, 39-35, in the quarterfinal round of the WPIAL Class 6A playoffs Friday night at Fox Chapel.

“We knew coming into it, it was going to be a battle,” said Norwin senior guard Jessica Kolesar, who scored a game-high 11 points. “Over the last two years, we learned a lot and we kind of fed off that and it pushed us harder.”

“It definitely feels good, and we knew that we could do it and I think that we showed it.”

The win sets the stage for a rubber match between Section 1-6A rivals Norwin (21-1) and No. 2 seed North Allegheny (21-1) on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined. The two teams split the season series, holding serve on their home courts. Norwin squeaked past the two-time defending WPIAL champion Tigers in their second meeting, 44-43. The Tigers downed No. 7 Upper St. Clair, 33-26, to advance.

With the loss, Mt. Lebanon (12-11) fails to advance into the semifinals for the first time in four seasons.

“It was obviously a tough one for us to lose,” Mt. Lebanon coach Dori Oldaker said. “I think our kids battled really hard all the way to the end and it was still a two-possession game. I want to give credit to Norwin. They did an outstanding job and they took advantage of our mistakes.”

After a nearly two-week break since playing their last meaningful game, both teams looked rusty shooting the ball early on and defense became a speciality. Mt. Lebanon senior forward Jamey Napoleon scored on a layup off a steal to give the Blue Devils their only lead of the game, 8-7, with just under 2 minutes left in the first quarter.

The 6-foot Napoleon caused problems in the paint for Knights shooters, swatting shots and pulling down rebounds. The inside game wasn’t there early for Norwin. Napoleon and teammate Ashleigh Connor led the Blue Devils with 10 points each.

“Jamey (Napoleon) is tough,” Brozeski said. “I joke around and say that she’s a sixth-year senior because it just feels like she’s been there forever.”

Napoleon hit a free throw early in the second quarter to tie the game at 11-11 before the Norwin shooters found their strokes. The second quarter was one long eight-minute run as the Knights outscored the Mt. Lebanon, 10-3, in the quarter. The Blue Devils’ only points of the quarter came off free throws.

Kolesar drained a 3-pointer from the left corner and Olivia Gribble came back down the floor and added another long ball to build the Knights’ lead with 1:49 remaining in the first half. Kolesar and Gribble’s 3-pointers were points the Knights would bank on later.

“Any 3-pointers that we get, especially two in a row, really drives our whole offense and even our defense,” Kolesar said.

Jayla Whener crashed the paint and added a putback to give the Knights a 21-13 lead going into halftime.

“They were having some unforced turnovers, which is not what we’re really about,” Oldaker said. “We just tried to get them to settle down (at the half).”

Napoleon added a layup to start the third quarter but Norwin senior Abigial Best responded with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to extend Norwin’s lead to 25-15. Emily Brozeski added a mid-range jumper and Kolesar came back with a steal and a layup to pace the Norwin offense during the third quarter. Kolesar’s speed up and down the floor was too much for the Blue Devils.

“I don’t think people realize how fast (Kolesar) is,” Brozeski said. “(Kolesar) is not only fast on the court but she is fast mentally, too.”

The Blue Devils came out in the fourth quarter on fire. Junior Patrice Smith drove the paint for a layup, and Napoleon added back-to-back baskets to cut Norwin’s lead to 35-28 with 3:03 to play. Connor and senior Nora Kogan finished with layups to close in on the Knights at 37-33. Kolesar added two clutch free throws with 39 seconds remaining to keep it a two-possession game.

“We’re going to enjoy this, basically, for 10 hours and then get focused on the next opponent,” Brozeski said. “We got to buckle down, get a new gameplan together and get after one of the best teams in the state.”

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