Norwin boys hold off Penn-Trafford, earn playoff spot for 1st time in 6 years

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Friday, February 11, 2022 | 11:27 PM


Norwin didn’t make a field goal in the fourth quarter, but that might have had something to do with the effort the Knights were putting in on the defensive end against visiting Penn-Trafford.

It was, attack on defense, rest on offense and hold on tight from there.

Or, maybe they were just saving their energy for the big, group pile-up with fans after the final buzzer sounded.

Norwin celebrated like it won the state title after holding off the rival Warriors, 48-45, on Friday night in the final Section 3-6A boys basketball game of the year for both teams.

The win, with a big crowd and pep-band music as a backdrop, clinched Norwin a WPIAL playoff spot for the first time since 2015-16.

Norwin was in the playoffs last year when the WPIAL had an open tournament that allowed any team to compete. But this time, the Knights felt the emotion that comes from earning a spot, the effort it took and the reward that followed.

“We hunkered down in the fourth quarter and got it done,” said junior guard Adam Bilinsky, who tied a game high with 16 points, including 10 in the third quarter. “Every game is tough in this section. You never win a game by more than five. It’s always a battle. It was so loud in here.”

Norwin (8-10, 4-6), Penn-Trafford (8-12, 4-6) and Hempfield (7-13, 4-6) finished tied for third place, and all three will go to the postseason. They all split their season series against each other.

Penn-Trafford, which already had clinched, rallied from a 40-31 deficit to start the fourth and made things interesting, finally taking the lead at 43-42 on a 3-pointer by senior guard Nick Crum.

Norwin did its best to get stops on defense and saw free throws start to fall after they were off the mark early.

The Knights were 4 for 11 through three quarters but made 8 of 10 from the line in the fourth, doing just enough offensively to win for the fourth time in six games under first-year coach Lance Maha.

“My fear tonight was we were going to be a little too hyped up,” Maha said. “Their excitement was genuine. P-T didn’t make it easy. I am happy for our guys. It was nice to see people here. This was a great atmosphere.”

Of Norwin’s 45 points, 33 came from 3s or free throws. The team made seven 3s but only six 2-pointers — five by Bilinsky.

Norwin was 6 for 6 on free throws in the final minute, including two from senior Michael Fleming to make it 46-43 with 35.6 seconds left, and two more from Bilinsky with 3.1. Bilinsky’s pair came after Conlan Greene scored for Penn-Trafford with 8.2 seconds left.

Greene finished with 16 points, and Wright had 12.

“This is the first time for us to get into the playoff in like six years,” Fleming said. “We’re getting the program back on track. This is a game we always circle on our calendars.”

The Warriors had one final look, but senior Noah Wright’s 3 from the wing was short, and Norwin celebrated.

“I like how we weatherd the storm,” Penn-Trafford coach Doug Kelly said. “We didn’t let them get away from us. I like how our kids responded. We fouled a lot, and they didn’t. That has become an ongoing problem for us. Credit Lance and his guys. They ran some stuff on offense, the UCLA back-screen, ball-screen, that we hadn’t sen before and it worked.”

Norwin came out firing, hitting four first-quarter 3s — two each from Fleming and senior Ty Stecko — for a quick, 9-0 lead.

It was 23-11 after 3s from junior Justin Weaver and Fleming, who finished with 11 points. Weaver added 10, including 4 of 6 free throws in the fourth.

Stecko made a hard drive for a baseline layup in the second quarter to help stake the Knights to a 27-22 halftime lead.

The third belonged to Bilinsky, who, after sophomore Jason Sabol made a 3 to tie it 29-29, keyed a 9-0 run with a dunk in the lane, a pull-up jumper and a 3 to make it 37-29.

Weaver hit a 3 to close out the third with Norwin ahead 40-31.

Wright had seven in the fourth to pull the Warriors within 42-40 before Crum’s 3 gave them the brief lead.

“We’re glad to be in (the playoffs),” Kelly said. “We’re fortunate to be in at 8-12. Whether you’re 19-0 or 8-12, it’s hard to get there. Competing in sports is hard. That’s why not everybody does it.”

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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