Norwin girls get past rival Penn-Trafford in defensive struggle

Thursday, February 11, 2021 | 10:22 PM

Sometimes, rival teams become so enamored with getting defensive stops, they forget to score.

So went the story Thursday night in North Huntingdon when Penn-Trafford and Norwin met for the second time this season in girls basketball Section 1-6A.

Nobody said rivalry games have to be pretty, but Norwin will take this one and run.

Fifth-ranked Norwin was strong on the defensive end — as was Penn-Trafford — but the Lady Knights did just a little more offensively to avoid a season sweep and get past the Warriors, 40-29, before a sparse, pep band-infused crowd.

Norwin (10-2, 8-2) came into the night with the best defensive average in Class 6A at 34.5 points per game and showed why with nagging pressure and aggressive play around the rim.

A win can do a lot to overshadow a boatload of missed layups, something Norwin has had issues with of late and struggled with against the Warriors.

“I loved the way we played defensively,” Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said. “For some reason, we couldn’t keep our focus on the offensive side. I wish I had the magic formula for making your layups. We’ve tried targets on the backboard in practice. I don’t know. Maybe we overcoach it.”

Still, the Lady Knights have won four in a row and continue to build momentum off a thrilling win over Class 5A No. 1 North Catholic.

“We knew we’d have to come out strong and that our defense would have to pick it up,” Norwin senior guard Danielle Rosso said. “We need to do a little better with layups. We needed to take better care of the ball.”

Penn-Trafford (9-3, 8-3), which was trying to win two section games in a season against Norwin for the first time since 2014-15, also struggled on offense. The Warriors, who rely on perimeter shooting, were limited to one 3-pointer, which came in the first quarter.

“It was really good defense on both sides,” Penn-Trafford coach John Giannikas said. “Our girls really played with effort on the defensive end. Norwin just made a few more shots than us, and were better at the free-throw line.”

Giannikas likened the teams’ first meeting to a boxing match. He said the rematch was more the wrestling variety.

“We had to make adjustments and get to the rim better in the second half,” he said. “Give the credit to Norwin.”

Junior Brianna Zajicek led Norwin with 12 points, sophomore Savannah Schneck had 10 and Rosso added nine.

Norwin took a nine-point lead into the fourth after Warriors junior guard Maura Suman scored to beat the third-quarter buzzer.

The Warriors cut it to 29-24 with about five minutes to play, sparked by sophomore Kylee Piconi, who had back-to-back scores to recharge a stagnant offense.

But Schneck took a pass at the top of the key and made a 3-pointer to push the margin to eight.

“She’s an energy player,” Brozeski said of Schneck, who had eight points in the fourth. “She practices the same way.”

Rosso made a short jumper, and Zajicek followed with a basket before Rosso made two free throws up the lead to 38-26 with 1 minute, 14 seconds left.

Penn-Trafford had just one field goal in the final 5:09 and shot 4 of 8 from the free-throw line in the fourth.

The lead switched hands six times early. A slow-starting game loaded with uncharacteristic turnovers saw Norwin take a 6-5 lead after one quarter.

Norwin had a better second quarter, limiting the Warriors to two field goals while increasing its advantage to 19-11 at the half. Zajicek scored six straight points for the Knights after Penn-Trafford took went up 9-8, its last lead.

Suman led Penn-Trafford with eight points.

The teams gathered before the game around Norwin senior basketball player Ty Bilinsky, who has been battling health issues. In a circle, the players and coaches said a prayer for anyone dealing with health issues or adversity in life.

“There is too much negativity in this world,” Brozeski said. “It was great to see everyone supporting each other.”

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

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