No. 2 Hempfield softball outduels No. 3 Norwin

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Monday, May 8, 2023 | 8:02 PM


Recent matchups between the Norwin and Hempfield softball teams turned into home run derbys.

The latest one, though, was a pitchers’ duel. And it had a postseason vibe between two playoff-bound teams.

Sophomore Riley Miller went the distance for Hempfield, striking out nine with no walks, and the No. 2 Spartans manufactured just enough offense to edge No. 3 Norwin, 2-1, on Monday in North Huntingdon to split their Class 6A section series.

Hempfield (15-2, 12-2) has won six in a row since a 10-8 loss to Norwin (13-5, 11-4) earlier in the season.

The Knights, who have dropped two in a row and three of four — they were upset by Mt. Lebanon, 4-3, on Friday — stood on the shoulders of senior ace Alyssa McCormick, who was, at times, just as effective as Miller.

McCormick struck out six and walked three on senior day.

Both pitchers allowed five hits.

Hempfield’s error-free defense made its mark on the win.

“We knew it would be a good game,” Miller said. “We played a little harder after a loss (to Norwin). You kind of take it personal. That loss was in the back of our mind. You get more comfortable when your defense is playing like that.”

It would be hard to imagine a Hempfield-Norwin game without an extra-base hit or a home run. But this one had neither. Just small ball and fundamentals, the timeless recipe legendary coach Bob Kalp used to win at Hempfield for decades.

“There’s no way I saw 2-1 coming,” Hempfield coach Tina Madison said. “Not after 10-8 last time and 10-7 and 10-7 last year. Riley made some adjustments and really pitched well. We answered every inning.”

That is true, only it wasn’t with offense, it was with defense and pitching.

For instance, after Norwin turned a 1-6-3 double play to end the top of the sixth, Hempfield returned the favor with one of its own — same combination — in the bottom of the frame.

“We were both on today,” said McCormick, who hit a grand slam and struck out nine in the 10-8 win over Hempfield. “There weren’t any major errors. They were just a little better at the moment of execution.”

Hempfield left a runner at third in the seventh, and Norwin flirted with the tying run in its final at-bats.

Novotnak singled and was replaced by a courtesy runner, freshman Graci Castelli.

McCormick bunted Castelli over to second, but Miller struck out sophomores Rachel Minteer and Isabella Deering to end it.

“You’re either hot or you’re not with the bats,” Norwin coach Brian Mesich said. “(Miller) kept us off pace today. We didn’t barrel too many. It was just a tight game for us. We didn’t spark a fire.”

Norwin senior Emma Novotnak, who was intentionally walked twice in the last game against Hempfield, was played straight up by the Spartans this time.

She delivered with two hits and an early RBI. She followed senior Madie Kessler’s single to make it 1-0 in the first.

Hempfield left the bases loaded in the second, with McCormick inducing a groundout to relieve the pressure.

In the third, though, the Spartans tied it 1-1. Freshman Lauren Howard singled, then ended up at third on two wild pitches.

Junior Hannah Uhrinek grounded out to knock in a run.

“It was about getting girls into scoring position,” Madison said. “I trust Riley more, and we were strong defensively.”

Hempfield went ahead to stay in the fourth. Junior Emily Griffith — who went 2 for 3 — singled, and junior courtesy runner Allison Fox moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Miller.

“I told Riley to get a bunt down, just don’t hurt your hand doing it,” Madison said. “She did the job.”

Junior Sarah Podkul ripped an RBI single through the right side to give Hempfield a 2-1 edge.

Both teams have critical section matchups remaining.

Norwin hosts No. 4 North Allegheny on Wednesday.

Hempfield plays No. 1 Seneca Valley on Thursday, the same day the WPIAL plans to release playoff pairings. The league is likely going to have to wait for Hempfield-Seneca Valley result because it should determine the section champion and No. 1 seed.

There is only one section in 6A this season.

“We want to win the section,” Madison said. “We have to take care of business against Butler (Wednesday) and then on Thursday, and see what happens from there.”

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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