Norwin girls celebrate beating North Allegheny, prep for next game

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Saturday, March 18, 2023 | 6:45 PM


The bench was warned: Don’t stand and celebrate until the game is over.

Stay seated until the ride comes to a full and complete stop.

Norwin girls basketball coach Brian Brozeski reiterated the referee’s orders with about 40 seconds left Friday night.

Norwin was well in control, but still …

“Stay down,” he told his girls, motioning with his palms down like he was playing the piano.

Once the final horn sounded, and the Lady Knights had an impressive, 20-point win in hand over their Class 6A rival, the girls jumped up like they had been shot out of a cannon and bounced around in a huddle of jubilation.

Forget the piano. This was like a heavy metal mosh pit.

And while it wasn’t a championship win, it sure felt like one.

Norwin 50, North Allegheny 30 in a PIAA quarterfinal signified the Lady Knights launching comfortably over a hurdle they had not been able to scale.

“This was the seventh time we played them in the playoffs. Now, we’re up one,” said Norwin freshman guard Ava Christopher, who gave the team productive minutes in the quarterfinal win.

She is right. But despite three playoff wins against the Tigers since 2015, Norwin fell to them three straight times in the postseason, including the WPIAL semifinals this year, the 2019 WPIAL semis and the 2016 PIAA quarterfinals.

Now, Norwin (24-4) is one win away from its first state final. The Lady Knights will take on unbeaten District 3 champion Cedar Cliff (29-0) in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Monday at Altoona High School.

The state championship is 6 p.m. Friday in Hershey, with the Norwin-Cedar Cliff winner taking on Archbishop Carroll (14-11) or Cardinal O’Hara (23-5).

Norwin players lingered long after Friday’s win. Fox Chapel officials dimmed the lights to get people moving. But they only moved from the court to the lobby.

North Allegheny has won three of the last four WPIAL titles and five of the seven titles awarded since the WPIAL started 6A in 2017.

But Norwin held the Tigers without a field goal in the fourth quarter.

“North Allegheny is one of the top teams in the WPIAL,” Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said. “We want to show we can compete with the top teams. This means so much to our girls. This has to be one of our better wins we’ve ever had.”

Sophomore Kendall Berger scored 18 points, junior Ava Kobus added 12 and junior Lauren Palangio chipped in 10 as Norwin split four games with the Tigers, the WPIAL champions (and the 2021 PIAA champions).

“Yes, this was a big hurdle,” Berger said. “A lot of the pressure is off. We need to use this as motivation to keep going. Our defense was outstanding.”

Oddly, Norwin will play its third District 3 team as it moves farther right in the bracket.

The Knights beat third-place Central Dauphin (34-19) in the first round and fifth-place Lebanon (57-43) in the second.

Now, they get champion Cedar Cliff.

One positive is the Knights are getting used to the style of play in the district.

“They play differently,” Palangio said. “There is not as much transition. They slow it down. We need to focus on that in practice.”

If a methodical approach is what it takes to get Norwin to Hershey, then the team is willing to play that way. But they would rather run.

“They will look to slow it down,” Berger said. “We want to stay in transition and speed it up.”

Back to Christopher’s uptick in play: She looked like she had done it a hundred times before when she ran down the far sideline, picked a North Allegheny player’s pocket and drove in for a layup to boost Norwin’s point-off-turnovers stats.

The play put Norwin up nine late in the third quarter.

Later, she made a smooth left-handed layup to stretch the Lady Knights’ lead to 20 over the Tigers, who were looking to double up on WPIAL and state titles.

Christopher helped to contain Tigers’ standout senior Jasmine Timmerson, a Pitt commit.

Kobus made a corner 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 40 seconds to play, and Berger converted a rare four-point play to make it 42-26 with 4:17 left.

For once, North Allegheny had no response. It was Norwin’s turn and, perhaps, its time.

“This is just the start of the fire,” Palangio said. “We’re not done yet.”

Norwin and North Allegheny have played at least once every year since 2006. North Allegheny has a slight edge, at 16 wins and 13 losses. But, as Christopher observed, the Knights are 4-3 against the Tigers in the postseason.

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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