Norwin boys escape with victory over Hempfield despite free-throw woes

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Tuesday, January 17, 2023 | 10:01 PM


Norwin hasn’t qualified for the WPIAL playoffs yet, but the Knights are already in survive-and-advance mode with their top player on the shelf.

The Knights overcame a second-half charge by Hempfield — and some rough free-throw shooting — to escape with a 47-46 Section 3-6A victory Tuesday night in North Huntingdon.

Missed free throws hindered both teams down the stretch as Norwin (8-5, 2-3) ended a three-game losing streak.

Norwin was 4 for 12 in the fourth — 7 of 18 for the game — and Hempfield (5-9, 1-4) was 8 for 15 in the final quarter, 11 for 22 overall.

Norwin was 1 for 6 inside the final 40 seconds.

“This was a tough game to officiate,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said.

It was the third straight game Norwin played without standout Adam Bilinsky, who is down with an ankle injury.

Multiple players contributed to the nail-biting victory.

• Noah Vogel played his second game since returning from a football injury and gave the Knights big minutes.

• Jackson Pons was good end to end and hit a 3.

• Collin Gunzburger had eight points, including two and-ones.

• Trent Raspotnik, Noah Wilson and Jake Murray all made contributions. Eight Knights scored in total.

“We’re learning as coaches as we go,” Norwin coach Lance Maha said. “We even took an extra timeout there at the end to take a closer look. We’re going to the bench for different guys. I can tell you we’re going to learn a lot from this tape.”

Norwin built a nine-point lead early in the third quarter before Hempfield rallied late in the fourth.

Harry Sowers converted a pair of and-ones in the final quarter, when he scored 12 of his game-high 17 points. He made a pair of free throws with 24.1 seconds left to get Hempfield within 47-46.

After a series of timeouts, Hempfield’s Caden Biondi missed a pair of free throws with 3.1 seconds, and Norwin escaped.

“This game wasn’t decided by free throws,” Swan said. “We missed a bunch before that. I love coaching Caden Biondi. He’s on the Mt. Rushmore of kids I have coached at Hempfield.”

Norwin went ahead 42-38 on a steal and layup by Ryan Edwards with 2:23 left.

“In the last two, two-and-a-half minutes, we took some ill-advised shots,” Maha said. “We needed to do a little better managing the lead.”

Sowers’ three-point play cut it to 44-42 with 2:05 to play.

“That’s just a testament to Harry,” Swan said. “He found a way.”

Raspotnik missed three foul shots, and Pons missed two with less than 40 seconds remaining.

“We make those, it’s over and we’re not even talking (about free throws),” Maha said. “We’ll be addressing that at practice.”

Still in uniform, Raspotnik and Pons were seen shooting free throws after the game.

Edwards, who led Norwin with 10 points, and Pons hit 3-pointers, and Justin Weaver beat the second-quarter buzzer to give the Knights a 25-16 lead at halftime.

“I thought we gave up too many loose balls in the first half,” Maha said. “We need to grind and get better.”

Raspotnik and Gunzburger had eight points each.

Biondi finished with 10 for Hempfield, which is averaging 47 points a game.

“We struggle to score,” Swan said. “It’s like playing chess. It’s not easy. But I am really proud of our effort. I am happy for Lance and his seniors.”

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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