Norwin baseball team has talent to contend for titles

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020 | 4:55 PM


(Editor’s note: The PIAA has postponed the start of the spring sports season because of concerns over the covid-19 pandemic.)

Adjusting to life without practice has been no small task for the Norwin baseball team.

After the Knights finished a workout Friday, the gates to their home field were sealed off indefinitely. The click of the padlock carried with it an ominous feeling.

As players drove away, they were saying goodbye to teammates, as a group, for an extended period of time.

But longtime coach Mike Liebdzinski expected his players to stay “baseball busy.”

“This is so different and not something anyone is used to,” Liebdzinski said. “We have a good group, and it’s going to be tough not to be together. But I know a lot of them are going to work on their own. Who knows, maybe we’ll have an advantage when and if we come back.”

Norwin has the look of a WPIAL contender. The Knights have a roster dotted with college commits and prospects and they can be dangerous if things fall into place.

Sophomore Jake Kendro already has committed to Tennessee, and junior Alex Gabauer is headed to Penn, junior Eric Chorba is going to Longwood (Va.) and senior Aiden Shephard to Mercyhurst.

“All teams are different,” Liebdzinski said. “We always have high expectations. But some are more realistic than others. You always expect to compete for a WPIAL championship. This group definitely has the talent, but they have to put in the work.”

Norwin went 14-7 last season and lost to eventual WPIAL champion Pine-Richland in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

The Knights have 11 straight playoff appearances. They were WPIAL champions in 2016 and runner-up in ‘15.

The return of Jayden Walker to the pitching rotation is a major boost. The talented left-hander, who had offseason shoulder surgery, has a Division I offer from Mount St. Mary’s, as does junior teammate Jake Bazala, another pitcher.

Walker, a 6-foot-3 junior, has yet to throw against live batters but said he is on schedule to do so later this month.

“We’ve all been working hard,” Walker said. “But we know we can always improve.”

Junior Logan Divald was the No. 2 pitcher last year before Walker was shut down. Senior Garrett Senchur is another dependable arm. Liebdzinski said Senchur has improved greatly and has raised his velocity.

“We also have some younger guys who will fill in (out of the bullpen),” the coach said.

Walker will be the first baseman when he isn’t pitching.

Liebdzinski is still debating where to play Gabauer and Kendro. They will play second base, third base or shortstop.

“I like the left side better,” Gabauer said. “But I will play where the team needs me most.”

Catcher is a deep position with “four or five” potential starters working to field the spot.

The candidates include juniors Eric Chorba, Landon DiBaradin and Ron Howard, who started behind the plate last year, and senior Lenny Piccini, a Clarion commit.

Liebdzinski expects returning WPIAL runner-up Penn-Trafford to be strong again, along with Hempfield, in Section 2-6A.

“We should be right there, too,” he said.

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

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