Norwin softball team, ‘coming in hot,’ beats Baldwin in playoff opener

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Monday, May 16, 2022 | 8:34 PM


Norwin softball had its team banquet the night before the playoff opener.

Odd timing? For sure.

But it also allowed the Lady Knight to spin forward instead of looking back. To offer pep talks and atta-girls rather than farewell hugs and nostalgia.

This season isn’t over yet.

“We’re coming in hot,” senior pitcher Angelina Pepe said. “The playoffs lit a fire under this team.”

Pepe powered No. 8 seed Norwin from the pitching circle and the plate Monday in a convincing 11-1 six-inning victory over No. 9 Baldwin in a WPIAL Class 6A first-round game at West Mifflin.

Pepe blasted a pair of solo home runs, drove in three runs and collected nine strikeouts, without walking a batter, as the Lady Knights (6-9) advanced to play No. 1 Hempfield (12-3) in the quarterfinals at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at Penn-Trafford.

Hempfield won both Section 2 games against Norwin by identical 10-7 scores.

A team suddenly inspired to keep playing, Norwin has won four of its last five games.

“Ang gave a great speech last night (at the banquet),” Norwin coach Brian Mesich said of Pepe. “She has really been playing well for us. She hit a grand slam against Connellsville. I think she is seeing the ball better.”

A Clarion commit, Pepe allowed five hits, two to Highlanders’ junior left fielder Grace Schumacher, who hit a solo homer and singled.

Once again, the Knights did not commit an error, and the offense flowed.

“I was really nervous today,” Pepe said. “I had a little panic attack. Mallory (Wensel) really helped calm me down. After that first strikeout, I was fine.”

And so were her teammates.

Every Norwin starter reached base. The team had 10 hits against three Baldwin (4-12) pitchers and scored nine unanswered runs after Baldwin cut the lead to 2-1 in the second inning.

Junior first baseman Emma Novotnak had two hits and an RBI, while senior Jadeyn Michalski cracked a pinch-hit double and sophomore third baseman Josey Michalski delivered a walk-off single to satisfy the 10-run rule in the sixth.

“This is the team we should have started (the season) with,” Mesich said. “It took time to get things into place. We had to smooth out some rough edges. We needed consistency to be consistent.”

Pepe made it 3-1 with a homer to left center in the third.

After sophomore shortstop Bailey Snowberger snared a line drive to end the fourth, the Knights extended the lead to 6-1. Junior catcher Madie Kessler looped a single to center to score one, and an error with the bases loaded plated two more.

In the fifth, a walk, another error and a sacrifice fly by senior designated player Julianna Shimko increased the margin to 8-1.

A three-run sixth sealed Baldwin’s fate. Pepe led off with a blast over the fence in left, Jadeyn Michalski doubled and Josey Michalski singled to score Novotnak to end it.

“This was a 100% team effort. We feel like we have the drive and passion we need to make this our season,” Novotnak said. “Let’s go out and play the way we deserve to play.”

Snowberger reached base five times, three times via a hit-by-pitch.

Senior Mallory Wensel also drove in a run for Norwin.

Norwin, a semifinal team last year, is looking forward to a rubber match against Hempfield.

“It’s been close both times we played them,” Pepe said. “We made a lot of errors last time and they hit me. Anything can happen this time. We’re going in with confidence.”

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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