Norwin baseball beats Hempfield on Weaver’s walk-off in 8th

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Thursday, May 4, 2023 | 10:32 PM


Justin Weaver wanted to win for several reasons Thursday.

The Norwin senior baseball player had his own, personal list of motivating factors in the back of his mind.

• There was a playoff spot up for grabs.

• It was senior day.

• It was his 18th birthday.

• Coach “Hudz,” who could not attend the game, put in a request for a victory.

Weaver made all of it worthwhile when he ripped a two-out, RBI single to left in the bottom of the eighth to give Norwin a 5-4, walk-off win over visiting Hempfield in the opener of a three-game Section 2-6A series.

The Knights (7-10, 7-6) clinched a playoff spot with their third straight win as Weaver had two hits and knocked in three runs.

Hempfield (9-8, 7-6) also clinched a postseason spot, despite its fifth straight loss.

The teams are tied for third behind Canon-McMillan and Mt. Lebanon.

“I was ready for it,” Weaver said of his extra-inning hit, the first walk-off winner of his career. “I came up to do my job.”

The senior dinner at a local restaurant, and the birthday cake that followed, were a welcome celebration for Weaver.

Now, about Coach “Hudz:” Norwin assistant coach Tom Hudzema took a line drive to his left eye during an indoor hitting session Tuesday and had to be hospitalized.

Hudzema watched the game on a team livestream not long after he texted Weaver: “Be a leader and beat Hempfield.”

Norwin coach Craig Spisak called the situation at practice “traumatic” for the players. He said a line drive went through the screen netting and hit Hudzema directly on his eye, knocking him to the ground as he bled from a cut above his left eyebrow.

“The team was thinking about coach,” said Weaver, a center fielder and Gannon commit. “We knew we had to come ready to play. This is a big one for us. Now, we can play for the third seed.”

Weaver’s winner came after Norwin loaded the bases.

Junior Nolan Ryan walked, moved up on a passed ball and went to third on a groundout. Sophomore Nate Silberman was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game and stole second.

Junior Ty Cupp then walked to set the table for Weaver, who knocked in Ryan to end it.

“We figure all three games could go this way,” Spisak said. “We’re very similar teams. Justin came through for us. I had to pull him in an exhibition game against North Allegheny earlier in the season, and I wasn’t sure how he would respond. He was great about it, and has played well for us.”

It was a defensive struggle for six innings after some offensive pop early.

Hempfield junior Carson Shuglie, who is hitting close to .400 and has 22 RBIs in 43 at-bats, hit his sixth home run, a two-run shot in the first.

The Spartans made it 4-0 in the second when senior Gage Wheaton delivered a two-run double with two outs.

Norwin put together a four-run second to tie it 4-4. All four runs came with two outs.

With two on, Weaver sent a drive to shallow center. Wheaton drifted toward the sinking drive and made a diving attempt. But the ball, which looked secured, came out of his glove as he hit the ground and two runs scored.

“That was a great effort by Gage,” Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said. “It just popped out when his body hit the ground. We gave them an error and a wild pitch (in the same inning). I’d like to have that inning back.”

An error set up the third run, and junior Keegan Carr hit an run-scoring single to center to make it 4-3.

After two walks to load the bases, another error allowed the tying run to score.

Hempfield threatened in the top of the eighth. The Spartans had an out call reversed when sophomore Dylan Firmstone was said to have been pulled off the base.

But they left runners stranded at first and third.

Norwin started senior Ryan Orosz on the mound, and he worked five innings before senior reliever Mike Sicak took over and earned the win.

“I was impressed with Ryan,” Spisak said. “After the first two innings he settled down and got better as the game went on. Mike came in and kept us in the game.”

Hempfield used three pitchers: junior Parker Donsen, senior John Kurdziel and freshman Chase Sikorski.

Hempfield outhit the Knights, 7-5. Wheaton was 2 for 4 for the Spartans.

Game 2 is Friday at Hempfield.

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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