Jake Bazala’s strong outing helps Norwin down Seneca Valley in WPIAL Class 6A quarterfinals

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Saturday, May 22, 2021 | 8:05 PM


After the baseball season is over, Jake Bazala plans to cut his long, auburn-colored locks and donate them to a good cause.

Until then, the Norwin senior pitcher and his trademark curly hair will try to keep moving forward in the WPIAL playoffs. And the Knights will keep trying to prove they are a cut above the rest.

Bazala picked up his eighth win of the season, junior Ty Stecko delivered a big two-run hit and senior Jayden Walker homered to pace the No. 2-seeded Knights to a 4-2 victory over No. 7 Seneca Valley on Saturday in a Class 6A quarterfinal at West Mifflin.

A Westmoreland team is guaranteed to make the finals. Norwin (14-3) will get a rubber match with section opponent Hempfield (14-7) in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Monday at Fox Chapel.

The winner advances to the WPIAL title game June 1 or 2 at Wild Things Park in Washington.

Norwin secured its first semifinal trip since 2016 with an error-free defensive effort and just one extra-base hit.

“It’s playoff baseball,” Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski said. “Whoever is the cleanest and throws strikes is going to move on. Our guys played well today. That first inning could have gone either way.”

Liebdzinski was referring to his team falling behind 1-0 when Ethan Baer ripped a one-out single to drive in a run for Seneca Valley (11-9). The Raiders proceeded to load the bases against Bazala, but the ace overcame two walks with a strikeout and a flyout to end the threat.

Walker pulled Bazala off the hook when he hit a rather nonchalant, two-run opposite-field home run to left in the bottom of the inning to make it 2-1.

“The first inning was a little rough,” said Bazala, who struck out six and walked four. “But once Jayden hit that ball, it really settled me down, and I think I went back out and was able to do my job.”

Senior Conor Carney doubled for the Raiders with two outs after a Norwin error in the second, but senior Quinn Burke was thrown out at home after a catch in right by Nick Fleming.

Fleming relayed to senior Alex Gabauer, who threw to senior catcher Landon DiBeradin for the out.

Bazala also worked out of a tough third when the Raiders used two hits and a balk to put two runners on, but they could not score.

The Knights finally added to their lead in the fifth when Stecko followed junior Jake Kendro’s single with one of his own, knocking in two to make it 4-1. Gabauer and Kendro scored.

Stecko went 2 for 4.

“Our guys know about the expectations,” Liebdzinski said. “A lot of years we have had teams that were supposed to do stuff and didn’t do it. We’re hoping to keep it going.”

Bazala, who threw 101 pitches, was relived by senior Luke Savage, who worked the final 123 innings to earn the save. He did not allow a hit, but Carney’s sacrifice fly with two outs in the sixth cut it to 4-2.

“We wanted him in there for his offspeed and changeup,” Liebdzinski said of Savage. “That’s a little different from Bazala. We wanted to give them a different look.

“Jake didn’t have his best stuff today but got it done and got outs. He has done it all year.”

Carney went 2 for 4 and Baer finished 2 for three with a walk.

With their first playoff win of the year out of the way, the Knights can think about Hempfield in the semis.

“It’s exciting, we’ve been waiting to do this since last year,” Bazala said. “We didn’t have a season last year and I think the team is really excited to move on. “We have high expectations. But I feel like we’re going to meet them and we’re going to keep doing our job.”

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

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