Norwin baseball team looks like the total package

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021 | 6:38 PM


It looks like a classic case of expectation vs. execution for Norwin this baseball season.

If one catches up to the other, watch out.

The No. 1-ranked Knights are loaded with college-level talent — a compound of Division I, II and III recruits. A dozen players are committed to play at the next level, automatically cranking up the pressure on the Knights before a pitch is thrown.

But just how well those players mesh and play as a unit could be what propels them to a section title and postseason run.

Coach Mike Liebdzinski says pump the brakes, for now.

“We’ve talked a lot about the rankings out there and about all of our college kids,” said Liebdzinski, who is starting his 18th season. “But that means nothing right now. I asked our kids, how many playoff games have you won? The answer is zero.”

Only pitcher Jake Bazala has any substantial varsity experience on the mound, so the senior with the long, curly red hair will set the pace for his counterparts.

This staff should be able to comb out any knots, though.

Norwin will have a luxury most teams, even at the Class 6A level, cannot afford: vast pitching depth. The team could build a bullpen behind the fence to shelter at least six players who will only pitch.

Senior Jayden Walker, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound lefty, has limited varsity time on the mound and has been on a lengthy return from shoulder injury, so he could return to action. Walker, Bazala and senior catcher Landon DiBeradin are Mercyhurst commits.

“The kids are confident, and they expect a good season,” Liebdzinski said. “We have some pitchers, but a lot of them are completely unproven. It’s going to be really nice to have that kind of depth, though. We may not have to have a guy go 100 pitches. We could end up with the 3-2-2-(innings) approach if it works out.”

Walker could end up in a closer’s role, Liebdzinski said.

“We cannot afford to slack off at practices and games,” Bazala said “Throughout the winter, we worked as individuals and sometimes together to better ourselves as players and a team. If we continue to keep our heads forward and do our job, there should not be anyone who can get in our way.”

Other pitchers include juniors Chase Kranitz and Noah Czajkowski as well as seniors Zach Potthoff, Luke Savage, and Brady Kukich.

Kranitz is working his way back from wrestling, and Walker and Fleming were starters on the basketball team.

Offensively, the Knights also could be a handful. A new scoreboard, scheduled to go up in April, could light up often on the home side.

Walker will play first base, and Alex Gabauer or Ryan Scavnicky, both seniors, will start at second. Gabauer or junior Jake Kendro will be at shortstop, with junior Ty Stecko at third.

Like the pitching, Liebdzinski has prosperous options with his middle infield. Interchangeable parts are another result of the talent and depth the Knights possess. We’re talking Division I bats and gloves.

Gabauer is a Penn recruit, Kendro is headed to Tennessee and Stecko is a Mount St. Mary’s commit, as is senior outfielder Nick Fleming, another big bat.

“As a whole, we try to look past talent,” Gabauer said. “We know what we have and the potential we bring. If we rely on just that, we won’t get too far. A team that has this kind of ability needs to stay focused and ignore the outside noise. We’re all competing for spots every day and realize half of our team won’t be playing, but (they) could be starters or even a star on another team. It’s a game within a game with our team, and we’re dedicated to sticking together and embracing this opportunity as a collective group.

“Looking good on paper is not at all the same as performing.”

Norwin, which has 13 seniors, was 14-7 in 2019 and lost to eventual WPIAL champion Pine-Richland in the quarterfinals. WPIAL champs in 2015 and ’16, the Knights will be chasing a 12th straight playoff appearance.

DiBeradin or senior Ron Howard will catch, while a talented outfield will feature Fleming, seniors Tanner Krevokuch, Eric Chorba and Justin Turcovski, and junior Elijah Dunn.

Chorba committed to Longwood, Turcovski to Pitt-Johnstown. Potthoff (Swarthmore) and Scavnicky (Franciscan) are headed to Division III programs.

“On paper, we have a lot of talent,” Liebdzinski said. “The batters are always behind and have to catch up. We’re hoping once they get going, we’ll be OK. We have to get a feel for what we have. The starters you have on opening day are never the starters you have on playoff day.”

Gabauer said players will lean on each other for support as the Knights navigate being a favorite.

“As teammates, we hold each other accountable, pick each other up, and accept nothing less than each other’s best every time on the field,” he said. “We’re not the only team in 6A baseball that’s built for success. We have to work for what we want, and work for it together.”

Norwin opened the season with a 5-4 win over Peters Township as Gabauer, Kendro and Jack Whalen each had two hits and Bazala was the winning pitcher.

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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