Penn-Trafford baseball wins opener against rival Norwin

Friday, March 25, 2022 | 10:43 PM

Jake Otto batted in the lower third of the Penn-Trafford lineup last season as an unassuming sophomore. But he knew his role likely would increase this season.

When junior Jakob Haynes, the Warriors’ likely No. 4 hitter, was injured during football, Otto was ready to pick up the slack.

On opening day, he got his chance to prove it. On Friday, the Warriors’ cleanup spot was on Otto pilot.

The junior shortstop went 3 for 3, drove in three runs and reached base five times as Penn-Trafford dumped rival Norwin, 10-6, in bone-chilling wind and rain in North Huntingdon.

Under a gray sky and in 40-degree conditions that felt 10 degrees colder, the opener lasted more than three hours. But patience paid off for the Warriors.

“This was a great team win and a nice start for us,” Otto said. “We have high expectations for this year, and this started it.”

Penn-Trafford (1-0) jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second inning, taking advantage of Norwin walks, which piled up and plagued the Knights (0-1) to no end.

Control problems led to 15 walks and four wild pitches, and two errors also contributed to a most uncharacteristic start for Norwin, the No. 3-ranked team in WPIAL 6A.

Norwin, which outhit the Warriors, 9-6, used four pitchers. And despite the arm woes, the Knights still managed to chip away at the deficit.

That they never led shows how much the self-inflicted miscues hurt.

“It’s a disappointing start to the season,” Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski said. “It’s hard to win when you walk 15 guys. Conditions were, obviously, challenging, but that is no excuse. We need to be better.”

The 5A Warriors finally gained some separation in the seventh, scoring three times to go ahead 10-6. A bases-loaded walk and wild pitch produced the first two scores before Otto singled off of senior reliever Bill Eger.

Haynes would have been the starting catcher, but Warriors coach Dan Miller saw sophomore Ian Temple fill in nicely behind the plate. He caught starter Dylan Grabowski and reliever Nolan Marasti, a pair of juniors. Marasti was credited with the win.

“We hope to get some work for our 3, 4 and 5 guys,” Miller said. “Grabowski and Marasti did a pretty good job. We only gave up (five) walks. And Temple was solid back there for us.”

Temple also had two hits. Eight of the Warriors’ starters walked at least once. Senior catcher Ty Stecko was a bright spot for the Knights as he went 3 for 4 with a double and solo home run. He homered twice in the preseason.

Knights’ senior Nolan Czajkowski gave up two early runs on a bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch with the bags still full.

A double steal by Norwin brought senior Jake Kendro in to make it 2-1 in the first. Another bases-loaded walk and a two-run single by Otto made it 5-1 an inning later.

The Knights trimmed the deficit to 5-4 in the marathon second inning on run-scoring singles — and an error — by senior Jack Whalen and Stecko.

A double-steal by the Warriors made it 6-4 in the third before Stecko’s blast to deep center got the Knights within one in the fourth.

Penn-Trafford took advantage of a hit batsman, a passed ball, a walk and an error to extend the advantage to 7-5 in the top of the sixth.

Stecko’s RBI double to right center closed the gap to 7-6 in the sixth. Grabowski, in the outfield, made a throw home to Temple to stop the tying run from scoring.

“We need to limit the walks and clean up our fielding,” Stecko said. “We also need to grind out our at-bats and become more consistent at the plate. We will learn from today and definitely will work hard to be better the next game.”

Miller was pleased to see his team execute offensively but also beamed about the Warriors having only one fly-ball out.

“Ideally, we don’t want any fly-ball outs,” he said. “Offensively, we were very good. We’ve been very disciplined the last few weeks, and that showed today.”

The offense must be more productive, Otto said, for the Warriors to grow into a playoff threat.

“We know we need to be a better hitting team,” Otto said. “We need to be able to put it all together. Some of us aren’t going to beat you with power. There are 21 outs. If we only give them one easy out, that makes it harder on them.”

Senior Jake Awenowicz also doubled for Norwin.

Penn-Trafford made three errors.

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

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