No. 4 Norwin sweeps rival Hempfield in Section 2-6A

Friday, May 3, 2019 | 8:34 PM

Continue to prove.

Those are the words Norwin softball coach Brian Mesich has been relaying to his players since the preseason.

His message is coming in loud and clear.

The proof is in the results.

The fourth-ranked Knights used the long ball, sure-handed defense and steady pitching to pull off a Section 2-6A sweep of host Hempfield and a share of the Section 2-6A championship with a 4-3 victory Friday at Robert D. Kalp Field.

Norwin (11-5, 10-4), a semifinalist last season, is primed to make a deeper run in the postseason. A second confidence-building victory over the four-time defending WPIAL and three-time defending PIAA champion Spartans in its section finale could be just what the team needs to make that happen.

“We have definitely picked up our pace a lot since last season,” said Norwin senior center fielder Alexandra Brentzel, who delivered a two-run homer in the sixth inning and made a running catch for the game-clinching out. “We’re kind of working off the energy we had from last season and doing so well. Hempfield always has been a huge rival, so we were very excited for this game. Once we started hitting the ball … it shows how much work we put into it and how badly we want to do this year.”

Hempfield (11-6, 9-4), which still can grab a share of its fifth straight section title with a win over Pine-Richland, had a five-game winning streak stopped on senior day.

Sophomore Sydney Lokay, a game-time decision to start in the circle, pitched a complete-game two-hitter with both hits coming from Spartans sophomore catcher Emma Hoffner, the second with two on and one out in the seventh that cut the lead to 4-3.

Junior left fielder Alexandra Dillner also homered for the Knights with a solo blast in the third after Hempfield had taken a 2-0 lead.

A shaky start was quickly erased by Lokay, who walked in two runs in the first and allowed a bloop double to Hoffner, whose hit fell between three converging defenders.

“Considering how big of a hole we dug,” Mesich said, “it’s resilient. Our biggest nemesis starting out this year was slow starts. Not getting into a rhythm and having to kind of fight and chip away to come back. Same thing applied today, but we had confidence. We had a good warm-up session. We play better when we’re loose.”

After an error at second to open the third, and a wild pitch, Lokay settled in comfortably, retiring 13 straight batters before hitting junior Emma Glosner in the seventh.

Senior Jessica Persin then walked, and Hoffner ripped a hard single just over the third base bag to make it 4-3.

Junior Ashley Orischak followed with a long fly ball to center that nearly found a gap, but Brentzel made a lunging catch to cut the tension and seal it.

“We just couldn’t get anything going,” Hempfield coach Bob Kalp said. “I was glad to see us generate some offense there in the seventh. … I thought we were headed for a happy ending.

“Orischak hit the ball hard enough, and I thought it surely was enough to get in there. That girl doesn’t catch that ball, we win the game.”

After Dillner’s team-leading sixth homer of the season, Lokay doubled in the third, lining a 3-2 pitch off the fence in left center for one of eight hits the Knights had against sophomore Callie Sowers — four of them for extra bases.

“Norwin is a very good hitting team,” Kalp said.

Senior Hailee Culberton doubled to start the Norwin sixth and later scored on a sacrifice fly by junior Victoria Shimko. After tagging from third, Culbertson nearly collided head-on with Hoffner on a close play at home that made it 2-2.

“That was a scary play but just tremendous effort by our girls,” Mesich said.

After sophomore Bailee Bertani singled, Brentzel launched a two-run bomb that nearly hit the scoreboard in left-center.

“I felt good,” Brentzel said. “I knew from the last two times I had popped up, so I knew I needed to get a hit. I was down in the count. I just needed a base hit. I wasn’t expecting a home run, but it was perfect. It felt perfect coming off the bat.”

Shimko gathered six putouts at third, making even the hardest-hit shots seem routine.

“She was a Dyson today,” Mesich said. “We used to say Hoover, but now it’s Dyson. One play after another, she made plays.”

Kalp and his longtime assistants, Dick Albright and Ray Mello, were recognized in a pregame ceremony. The Spartans’ field was named after Kalp a few years ago, but Albright and Mello each had their names attached to the dugouts — Albright on the home side and Mello the visitors’ — as a thank-you gesture for their 23 years guiding one of the WPIAL’s elite programs.

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

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