Penn-Trafford boys basketball eliminates Norwin from playoff contention

Tuesday, February 4, 2020 | 11:01 PM

Visiting Penn-Trafford needed a victory to get back on track after losing two games in a row. Norwin needed one to stay in the hunt for a postseason spot.

Unfortunately for the homestanding Knights on Tuesday night, there could be only one winner.

Zach Rocco scored 17 points to lead Penn-Trafford over Norwin, 49-42, eliminating the Knights from WPIAL playoffs contention.

“We played well enough to win this game. Let’s put it that way,” Penn-Trafford coach Jim Rocco said. “The whole section is just muddied. You’ve got teams really on the same level, except (first-place) Fox Chapel. Everybody is fistfighting all games. It’s just a fistfight.”

Penn-Trafford came in already having clinched a playoff spot. Rocco didn’t want a letdown.

“We’re going to compete,” he said. “It’s going to come down to everybody making plays. The kids are just going to have to make plays if we’re going to continue to be successful.”

The result leaves the teams with identical overall records of 12-8. The difference comes in Section 3-6A play, where Penn-Trafford is 5-5 and Norwin is 3-7.

“It’s a battle every night in the WPIAL,” first-year Norwin coach Buddy Valinsky said. “It’s my first year out here, and I’ve seen the intensity. It’s every night. It’s tough. It’s a grind. It’s low scoring, lots of screens, full-court pressure, more charges. You’ve got to coach with the team you have.”

Valinsky coached Allderdice to six consecutive City League championships before taking over at Norwin. His 2016 team reached the PIAA Class 6A championship game, losing to Philadelphia Roman Catholic.

Josh Kapcin added 12 points for Penn-Trafford, which swept the season series with Norwin. Chase Vecchio grabbed 13 rebounds for the Warriors.

Ty Bilinsky led Norwin with 15 points. Josh Williams added 13, and Jayden Walker chipped in 10 for the Knights, who missed their first 13 shots from 3-point range and finished just 3 for 16.

Norwin held Rocco to just four first-half points but couldn’t contain the Penn-Trafford senior point guard in the second half. Rocco took over and made it a parade to the free-throw line, where he made 5 of 9 attempts after halftime. The foul shots were uncharacteristic, his dad said.

“Zach doesn’t miss too many. That was not normal for him,” Jim Rocco said.

But the elder Rocco has no trouble recognizing his son’s abilities as a team leader.

“He’s a special player,” he said. “People ask me if it’s difficult to coach your son. It’s not at all because he’s the hardest-working kid, the kid with the utmost character, the kid that looks out for everybody else. He’s the kid who respects all others before himself. It’s easy coaching him. It’s an honor and a pleasure to coach a kid like that, and I’ve had others like him.”

Penn-Trafford erased a 10-8 deficit after the first quarter to take a 21-20 halftime lead. The Warriors began to pull away in the third quarter with a 16-9 edge to go up 37-29 and built the lead to as many as 13 before holding off Norwin.

“These are great kids,” Valinsky said. “They gave us all the effort, but we’ve got to become basketball players soon. If it’s going to be the younger generation that does that, so be it. I lose just one kid next year (guard Nate Petrarco). Hopefully, being out here for one year now, they understand what we want to do.”

Rocco, unlike Valinsky, is a veteran coach in the WPIAL. He said the rivalries are what keep him going.

“Penn-Trafford’s rivalry with Norwin is what it should be,” Rocco said. “It’s not nonsensical. It’s not nasty. It’s competitive and respectful. We have some strong relationships with one another. It’s a really good rivalry, and it will continue.”

The schools are six miles apart.

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