Pitching, defense help Norwin avenge Section 2-6A loss to Plum

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Friday, May 3, 2019 | 7:27 PM


Norwin wanted a fast start against Plum given what happened in their first Section 2-6A meeting this season: six innings of scoreless ball, followed by a Plum walk-off in the seventh.

The Knights got just what they desired and maybe even a bit more than they bargained for.

Nick Fleming’s three-run homer highlighted a five-run bottom of the first inning, and Billy Kerston pitched six innings of shutout ball as Norwin clinched a WPIAL playoff berth with a 5-0 win over Plum on Friday.

“We talk about it all the time: pitching and defense,” said Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski, who led the Knights to the playoffs for the 15th time in his 16 seasons. “Not giving people free bases and making the plays you’re supposed to, you’ll have a chance to win high school baseball games. We were able to capitalize on one of their mistakes early in the game, and that was enough to get us the victory.”

That was something Norwin (11-5, 5-3 Section 2-6A) couldn’t do earlier this season against Plum. Mustangs starter Gino Marra no-hit the Knights last month, and Plum won 1-0 on a walk-off error.

The Knights made sure that wouldn’t be the case Friday. With Marra unavailable to pitch after throwing seven innings Wednesday against Penn-Trafford, Norwin jumped on Plum starter Brody Simmons in the bottom of the first inning.

The first two runs scored via small ball: a wild pitch and a throwing error by Plum shortstop Evan Kircher. The final three came on the long ball, as Fleming deposited a Simmons offering over the wall in right field.

“After what happened last game, it gives our guys some confidence,” Liebdzinski said.

It also put Plum (7-11, 3-6) in an early hole, particularly troublesome for the Mustangs given their season-long offensive problems. Friday’s game marked the fourth time this season an opponent blanked Plum. That includes three times in the past four contests.

“You can’t win a baseball game scoring zero runs,” Plum coach Carl Vollmer said. “We’ve talked about that. We got down early, and I think emotionally from where our team has been, I think that was a tough thing for us. That was the opposite of what we wanted: We needed to create some momentum, and we were unable to do that.”

Kerston had something to do with that. Norwin’s ace shook off some early command issues — he allowed four baserunners in the first two innings — but settled down as the game got going. The senior gave up four hits, all singles, and three walks and struck out eight batters.

“I didn’t start out too hot, but I started getting into rhythm and I just throw strikes, let the team play,” Kerston said. “My team makes plays behind me, and we hit the ball. That’s really everything.”

Plum relievers Jared Hoener and Logan Schlegel combined to throw five scoreless innings, but the Mustangs just couldn’t solve Norwin’s pitching. They put two runners on in the seventh inning against Norwin reliever Jake Bazala, but Bazala got a strikeout and flyout to finish off the shutout.

“That’s been throughout the season a recurring theme,” said Vollmer, whose team stranded nine baserunners. “We just haven’t been able to push runs across even when we have opportunities. We haven’t been able to stack enough in a row to create big innings.”

Owen Sabol, Derek Turcovski and Jayden Walker doubled for Norwin, which remains alive for a share of the section title if it wins out.

“It just means everything to make the playoffs, get another chance,” Kerston said. “Right now, we’re just battling. If we win out, section champs, baby — that’s our goal right now.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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