Tough schedule pays off as Norwin boys down Hempfield

Friday, January 28, 2022 | 10:37 PM

Norwin and Hempfield know something about tough nonsection schedules.

Both boys basketball teams have gone against some of the top teams in Class 6A and 5A in the hopes those games would sharpen their lineups for Section 3-6A play.

After playing 5A No. 1 Laurel Highlands close and then beating Butler, a returning 6A semifinalist, Norwin was ready to meet Hempfield in their section rematch, and it showed.

Norwin overcame an early deficit to post its first home win of the season — the first at home under coach Lance Maha — with a 59-49 victory on Friday night to split the season series with the Spartans.

“Those games prepared us,” Norwin junior guard Adam Bilinsky said of Laurel Highlands and Butler. “I feel like we got over a mental block with those games. We showed we can play with any team.”

Norwin beat Butler, 69-61. It lost to unbeaten Laurel Highlands, 70-59.

Bilinsky and senior guard Michael Fleming each scored 16 points in the Hempfield rematch, and junior guard Ryan Edwards added 13 (three 3-pointers) to pace the Knights (6-8, 2-4), who remain in the playoff race with four section games remaining.

Norwin has not been to the WPIAL postseason on merit since the 2015-16 season. It lost to Butler in the first round last year when the WPIAL had an open tournament.

The Knights made 18 of 23 free throws, including 13 of 16 in the fourth.

Fleming was 8 of 9 from the line.

“We’ve played 14 games, and only four of them have been at home,” Maha said. “We’re trying to build some momentum here on our floor. This wasn’t pretty or smooth, but we will take the win. We took better shots and guarded better as the game went on.”

Hempfield (5-11, 2-4), which has played every top-five team in 6A at one point this year, is tied with Norwin for fourth place. The top four advance to the playoffs.

The Spartans came out hot, connecting on six first-quarter 3-pointers for a 22-13 lead.

But they were just as cold in the second eight-minute stanza, scoring just two points to trail 26-24 at halftime.

“The ball didn’t go in,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said of the second quarter. “That was about as good a first quarter as we’ve had, but we missed some shots after that. Norwin has some good kids, and they played well. Bilinsky got going in the second quarter. Fleming played a nice game.”

Fleming converted a four-point play just before the half for Norwin as he was fouled on a corner 3.

The momentum carried into the third as Bilinsky finished a three-point play, then hit a pull-up jumper, before Edwards and junior Justin Weaver connected for 3s to push the lead to 37-27.

Norwin led by 10 two more times in the third and took a 43-34 lead to the fourth after a coast-to-coast layup by Bilinsky.

“Adam has been playing really well the last couple of weeks,” Maha said. “He’s getting 10 rebounds a game as a guard. We got contributions from a lot of guys tonight.”

Senior Sean Gordon and junior Harrison Sowers tried to chip away for Hempfield, but the Spartans couldn’t sustain a run.

Gordon finished with a game-high 22 points, Sowers finished with 12 and senior Dom Hipps chipped in 10.

Hempfield played its fifth straight game without senior guard Joe Fiedor, who injured his knee against Penn-Trafford. His return is unclear.

Norwin had just one field goal in the fourth, a wing 3 from Fleming, but kept Hempfield at bay by making free throws.

Hempfield made nine 3s, and Norwin seven.

Norwin senior forward Ty Stecko, who scored 22 against Butler, grabbed 12 rebounds.

Swan won his 200th game at Hempfield when the Spartans outran Norwin, 77-72, earlier in the season.

The win was the 295th for Maha, the longtime coach of the West Mifflin boys.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at

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