Playoff berth breathes new life into Norwin boys basketball program
Saturday, February 19, 2022 | 11:01 AM
Norwin players and coaches sprinted toward center court and embraced one another. They soon were joined by some student fans who rushed the court after the final buzzer sounded.
It had been a while since the Norwin boys basketball team, the program, felt something like this. Such energy and excitement hadn’t surrounded a Knights’ victory for the better part of six years.
Led by first-year coach Lance Maha, Norwin held off Penn-Trafford, 48-45, in the Section 3-6A finale to clinch a WPIAL playoff berth earlier this month, something the Knights hadn’t done since 2015-16.
So caught up in the moment with a big crowd and big noise, the Knights forgot to shake Penn-Trafford players’ hands. It wasn’t a sign of disrespect; they were just too busy celebrating.
“The energy in here tonight was incredible from the start. It was so loud,” Norwin junior guard Adam Bilinsky said. “We hunkered down and defended.”
That the clincher came against rival Penn-Trafford, a team already in the playoffs, Bilinsky said, “It couldn’t have fallen any better.”
Bilinsky had 16 points, 10 in the third quarter, including an impressive dunk from the low post.
He went vertical after a couple of dribbles and took on a pair of defenders.
No. 11 seeded Norwin (9-10) was scheduled to begin the playoffs Feb. 22 at No. 6 Butler (11-9), the team that knocked the Knights out a year ago.
Norwin was in the playoffs last year, but that was when the WPIAL had an open tournament where any team could participate. The luster of earning a spot this year drove up the stakes, and Norwin’s will to compete.
“I knew we weren’t going to win this game by shooting the ball,” Maha said. “We had to guard strong and stay with our defensive game plan. Our guys did that.”
Maha said his team played one of its better all-around games, which was a good sign heading to the postseason.
“I thought we played our two worst games at Penn-Trafford and against Fox Chapel,” he said. “We didn’t play like we’re capable of or how we want the culture to be here.
“Seeing all these people come out to watch us, it was nice.”
The Knights had received key contributions from seniors Michael Fleming and Ty Stecko down the stretch as they lead a mostly young team that appears to have a brighter future.
“We changed up some sets (in the Penn-Trafford game) and we ran them well,” Fleming said. “I feel like we’re starting to get the program back on track.”
Bilinsky scored a career-high 31 points in Norwin’s final regular season game, a 63-54 win over Franklin Regional. It was the team’s fifth win in seven games.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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