Fresh legs, strong shooting key opening-round PIAA win for Norwin girls

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Friday, March 8, 2019 | 9:32 PM


HOLLIDAYSBURG — Playing with confidence, fresh legs and resolve following a gut-wrenching elimination from the WPIAL semifinals, the Norwin girls basketball team opened the state playoffs with a lively victory.

The Knights returned to the PIAA tournament after a two-year absence and rang up a dozen 3-pointers, shared the ball and subbed generously with crisp lineups on the way to a 62-45 victory over District 6 champion Altoona in a Class 6A first-round game Friday night at Hollidaysburg High School.

Norwin (22-2), which last won a PIAA playoff game in the 2016 quarterfinals, had four players score eight or more points and seven players connect on 3s.

The Knights will play Northampton (25-4) on Tuesday at a time and site to be announced.

Norwin had lost to North Allegheny, 37-36, in the WPIAL semis on a late layup and steal. The after-effects looked like they might linger early before the offense heated up.

Altoona (16-8), which lost to Norwin, 48-38, on Dec. 7, had control in the opening minutes, building a 9-2 advantage. But that’s when Norwin found its shooting rhythm. The Knights hits three 3s in the opening quarter to take the lead, then continued to fire away to slowly distance themselves from the Mountain Lions.

Junior Jayla Wehner led the Knights with 13 points, sophomore Danielle Rosso and junior Olivia Gribble scored 11 each and senior Jessica Kolesar had eight. Rosso and Gribble made three 3s apiece.

Once Norwin was able to get control, it could apply its defensive pressure to make sure it stayed in front by double figures.

“The energy all around, not just on the bench and on the court but also the community that came out to support us … we feed off that energy,” Wehner said. “Our defense was the main factor in this game. Due to us getting stops on defense, we were confident with the ball and we felt like the shots we took were going to go in.”

Altoona’s size was an issue early but became a non-factor as the game wore on.

Senior 5-foot-10 guard Olivia Hudson kept Altoona close for a spell but was held scoreless in the third quarter when Norwin outscored the Mountain Lions, 17-6.

“It wasn’t the ideal start,” Brian Brozeski said. “We had a vision that Altoona was going to come out firing. We had to make sure we weathered the storm and were able to counter back. I was really proud of the way the girls were able to fight back. We were fortunate to be able to shoot well from the perimeter.”

A 10-0 run in the second quarter allowed Norwin to take a 25-14 lead, and the Knights took a 33-24 advantage into

halftime.

When the teams played earlier in the season, Altoona had 20 points through three quarters. This time, it had 30. Norwin, though, had 50.

Scoring 15 of the first 16 points of the third, including 3s from Gribble and Brianna Zajicek gave the Knights a 20-point cushion.

Rosso hit all of her 3s before the break.

“Rosso was huge,” Brozeski said. “She is growing up before our eyes. Good kid … well deserved.”

The Mountain Lions could only cut it to 15 in the fourth.

“We knew they were going to come out strong,” Wehner said of Altoona. “When they came out strong at the end of the quarter, we knew we’d have an advantage due to our conditioning and how we play.

“If we get into their legs (early), then we can get them in the end of it.”

Altoona also shot the long ball well, connecting on seven from behind the arc. Five players made 3s.

Nine players scored for Norwin. The rapid substitutions, nothing new to Brozeski’s group, afforded energetic possessions and stamina on defense.

“The girls are unselfish,” Brozeski said. “They are willing to play hard for their minutes and then allow their teammate to come in and get their minutes. That is key. They get their legs back and get back out there. That pays dividends for us in regards to keep as many fresh bodies out there as possible and be able to find out who has the hot hand.”

On this night, it was hot hands.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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