Sophomore lefty powers streaking Norwin past slumping Hempfield

Friday, May 5, 2023 | 10:33 PM

Ethen Culbertson threw Hempfield a curve.

The host Spartans were hoping to hit Norwin’s unassuming sophomore left-hander Friday and bounce back from a loss against the Knights.

But Culberson wasn’t having it.

With his curveball doing its job and a defense settling in behind him, Culberton tossed an 85-pitch complete game and Norwin stretched its winning streak to four with a 6-1 victory in the middle game of the teams’ three-game Section 2-6A series.

“The defense really helped out behind me,” Culbertson said. “I probably threw my curveball 70% of the time today. I just went pitch by pitch and tried to get strikes. This was a good team win for us.”

Norwin (8-10, 8-6) broke the third-place tie with the Spartans (9-9, 7-7), who have dropped six in a row after winning seven straight.

Culbertson allowed five hits and did not walk a batter in his fourth start of the season. He went 8.2 innings in a 2-1, 10-inning loss to Mt. Lebanon, finally hitting his pitch count in extra innings.

“They say you’re only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher,” Norwin coach Craig Spisak said. “Ethan was solid today. He threw strikes, and our defense was solid..”

Spisak did not warm up a reliever, especially after the Knights took a 4-0 lead in the fourth.

Hempfield had a 4-0 lead Thursday, but Norwin scored five unanswered to win 5-4 in eight innings.

There was no such comeback for the Spartans in Game 2 as they gave Norwin a number of opportunities with unforced errors.

Hempfield had an error and a walk in the fourth inning when Norwin scored three.

Junior Nolan Ryan roped a double to make it 2-0, senior Steve Rodgers delivered a sacrifice fly, and sophomore Nate Silberman singled in a run for a 4-0 advantage.

It got worse for Hempfield in the fifth. A walk, error and passed ball put runners at first and third for senior Chris Slatt, a Seton Hill commit.

But Hempfield intentionally walked Slatt to load the bases with one out. Sophomore reliever Dylan Firmstone, who replaced senior starter Conner Burkey, walked in a run then hit Ryan with a pitch to make it 6-1.

“We’re playing hot right now,” Ryan said. “Everyone is clicking.”

Hempfield did end the fifth a 1-2-3 double play, matching Norwin’s inning-ending 6-4-3 from earlier.

But the Spartans were visibly frustrated due to a lack of offense and the mounting miscues.

“The last half-dozen games, we haven’t scored too many runs,” Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said. “The biggest difference for us when we were winning is we were limiting mistakes. It was kind of a when-it-rains, it-pours deal today.

“We made it hard on ourselves.”

Ryan had a game-high two RBIs, while junior Keegan Carr, senior Ryan Mesko and senior Justin Weaver, who had the game-winning hit in Game 1, all had a hit.

Mesko left late in the game with a foot injury after he said he stepped in a hole in right field. Senior Gage Wheaton, another Seton Hill commit, had a double for Hempfield.

Sophomore Colin Polechko, who came in as a pinch-hitter in the fifth, had two singles.

“We have a much better approach, better at-bats, than we did earlier in the season,” Spisak said. “We have definitely improved from the beginning of the season until now. We’re a different team.”

Norwin had two errors on one play in the third, but did not let Hempfield score.

“We let a couple plays up,” Ryan said. “But we bounced back.”

Hempfield left seven on base.

Slatt made it 1-0 in the first with a sacrifice fly.

Both teams are playoff bound. They will finish their series Monday at Norwin with one of them likely securing third in the section.

The WPIAL will announce playoff pairings next Friday.

Hempfield will look to recapture momentum next week.

“That’s baseball,” Buzzard said. “One minute you’re partying in the dugout, the next minute you’re upset and quiet.

“We have to shore up our defense. We have to try and have some pride and move on. Monday still means a lot.”

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

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