East Xtra: Explosive lineup carrying Norwin toward playoffs

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In his 11 seasons as the baseball coach at Norwin, Mike Liebdzinski has seen many things.

He's been there for some of the program's better moments, like consecutive 17-1 seasons in 2011 and 2012, as well as some of the inevitable lows, such as a 6-13 finish in 2004, his first season there.

In that time, however, he's seen nothing quite like what he's been able to witness over the past several months.

Led by a talented and productive quartet of players -- J.J. Matijevic, Nick Amendola, Cody Stanoszek and Dom Farina -- the Knights have produced the sort of eye-popping power numbers that have led to both team success (a 10-2 overall record, 7-2 in Section 2-AAAA, a game behind Hempfield through Tuesday) and statistics that rank its stars near the top of the WPIAL in most any major offensive category.

So, has the team's coach been around anything like this before?

"Probably not," Liebdzinski said. "Two years ago, we sent four guys to Division I schools, so we had a really strong offensive team then, but not necessarily in terms of the power numbers and stuff that we're seeing so far this year."

Norwin's potency at the plate this season is something that extends far beyond the perspective of coaches and anecdotal observations. It's a trend backed up by a slew of overwhelming numbers.

Two of its players -- Amendola (.571) and Matijevic (.563) -- are among the top 10 players in the WPIAL and City League in batting average, making the Knights the only team in the area that has multiple players in the top 10 in batting. That figure doesn't even include two other players who are having excellent offensive seasons thus far, Stanoszek and Farina, who are hitting .500 and .486, respectively. All statistics are through games of April 20.

As far as power numbers go, Matijevic led all WPIAL and City League players with seven home runs and 25 RBIs.

Beyond all of that data, though, has been something that has impressed their coach more than anything else.

"One thing that we like is the guys who are leading the team in hitting are really hard workers," Liebdzinski said. "They're in the batting cages all winter, getting ready for the season. They kind of lead by example and show the younger guys that hard work is going to pay off."

The Knights' offensive firepower was most outrageously exemplified earlier this season by its best player, Matijevic. In six consecutive games, a period spanning from March 31 to April 16, this senior standout and University of Arizona commit hit at least one home run, the kind of feat that's incredibly rare even for elite players in the WPIAL.

Naturally, the attention of professional teams has shifted to Matijevic.

"Every game, there are three or four professional scouts there, so he's definitely going to have that opportunity," Liebdzinski said. "He has a great scholarship waiting for him at Arizona. It's going to depend on how high they're going to take him and we'll have to make that decision from there.

"I think no matter what he decides, he's going to be successful. We've had some great kids in the past and we're proud of all of our kids, but nobody's worked any harder to get where he is than he has."

In all, the embarrassment of riches that Norwin has in its lineup has contributed to a strong 2014 season, one in which the team has averaged nearly 10 runs per game.

Sitting in second place in the competitive Class AAAA Section 2 and with wins against the likes of North Allegheny and Penn-Trafford, the Knights are confident in how far they can go.

"There's a lot of teams this year that have a shot to go the whole way," Liebdzinski said. "We're one of those teams with that possibility. Our section is strong. In the past, that's been one of the knocks, that we don't have the competition coming out of our section into the playoffs. I think Hempfield and Penn-Trafford are definitely two of the top teams.

"We've played North Allegheny, who is always one of the top teams, and we fared well against them. I think it's more open this year than it has been in past years. I don't see anybody out there necessarily with a dominant pitcher who will come shut you down. We have as good of a chance as anybody."

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG


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