Freshman Savannah Schneck helps Norwin girls avenge playoff loss to North Allegheny

Thursday, January 2, 2020 | 10:19 PM

With its 13-point lead squeezed to three with about a minute to play, Norwin did what any seasoned team would do in such a chaotic situation. It gave the basketball to a freshman.

Reserve swing-guard Savannah Schneck made the most of her minutes, coming up clutch in a clash of Section 1-6A heavyweights.

Schneck made two key layups down the stretch to help No. 3 Norwin fend off No. 2 North Allegheny, 63-55, on Thursday night as the Knights avenged a loss to the Tigers in last year’s semifinals and moved into first place all by themselves.

“It was a little nerve-racking,” Schneck said. “But I felt comfortable because we all play together as a team. We used that punch from the start and played well all the way to the end.”

With a performance that was fueled by 11 3-pointers and nonstop pressure defense, pumped-up Norwin moved to 7-2 overall and 4-0 in section.

North Allegheny took its first loss to drop to 6-1, 3-1.

Norwin seniors Jayla Wehner and Olivia Gribble combined for 29 points, with Gribble hitting three shots from behind the arc and finishing with 16 points, and Wehner adding 13 points with four 3-pointers.

“We came into this game treating it like it was a WPIAL championship,” Wehner said. “We were really prepared and our scout team did a great job this week at practice to get us ready and replicate (North Allegheny) and what they do. This was a great team win.”

Norwin looked like it might run away and hide early in the fourth as it stretched the lead to 51-38. But North Allegheny, led by senior Lizzy Groetsch, chipped away, eventually pulling within 54-50 on a 3-pointer from sophomore Emma Fischer, and 57-54 on two free throws by Paige Morningstar with 1:48 remaining.

Schneck made back-to-back layups, the second with 45 seconds remaining, to put the Knights back in control to stay.

The pep band was glad it played this event.

“They did a great job of taking away the things we do well,” North Allegheny coach Spencer Stefko said. “This was a great high school basketball game. But there were times tonight where they outplayed us and out-coached us.”

Gribble’s driving score gave Norwin a 13-point lead early in the fourth, but Fischer made a 3-pointer to jumpstart a comeback. She had six in the final frame.

Norwin did not flinch, though, as it managed to hold the defending WPIAL champions at arm’s length.

“I thought our girls did a great job of creating shots and moving the ball,” Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said. “We came out and wanted to see which way the momentum took us. We picked up the pace and shot it well.”

Brozeski said Schneck earned her time in a big game.

“It was nice to see her get rewarded,” he said. “We did a nice job creating those moments for her.”

Norwin came out firing from the perimeter and wasted little time with the possessions.

The Knights connected on four 3-pointers in the breakneck first quarter — two apiece from Wehner and Mara Polczynski — to take a 21-16 lead.

Three of the threes came in a row as the Knights went on an 11-0 spurt early in the quarter.

Groetsch, who has a dozen Division I offers, scored nine points in the second quarter to help the Tigers cut into the early deficit. She finished with a game-high 21.

But after her three-point play narrowed the margin to 26-22, Gribble, Wehner and Danielle Rosso all hit threes to build the score back to double digits, at 37-26, with 1:58 left in the half.

Groetsch made a layup, but Rosso ended the half with a three-point play to give the Knights a 40-30 lead at the break.

A 6-0 run by North Allegheny to start the third made it 40-36, but Norwin ended the quarter with a 9-2 run to take a 49-38 advantage into the fourth.

“It’s gut-check time for us now,” Stefko said. “We’ll see how we respond. Now we know what the standard is. (Norwin) is the standard.”

North Allegheny’s only lead was 3-0 on an opening three-point play by Groetsch.

“This is a great one for us,” Brozeski said. “We have to keep this game in perspective.”

Sophomore Brianna Zajicek added 10 points for Norwin. Morningstar finished with 11 for the Tigers.

Norwin and North Allegheny split their section series last year before the Tigers edged by the Knights in the WPIAL semis, 37-36.

Norwin also handed the Tigers their first loss last year when they came to North Huntingdon with a 17-0 record.

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

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