East Xtra: Norwin rebounds to extend its season

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The Norwin Knights have come a long way in a short two months to find themselves in the position they are in right now.

At 12-8 overall and 6-5 in Class AAAA Section 1, the Knights control their own destiny for the No. 3 seed in the section, having already clinched a WPIAL playoff berth.

But it wasn't all sunshine for the Knights this season, especially in the first half. Norwin began the season 2-5 and 0-3 in the section with losses to Hempfield Area, Kiski Area and Greater Latrobe.

"We don't like the position we are in, but we like where we are since we started 0-3," Norwin coach Lynn Washowich said. "We would have taken this in a heartbeat. We are playing a lot better since then. We were 2-5 at one point. We won 10 of our past 13 games, and most importantly we are playing better basketball."

The Knights flipped the switch on Dec. 23 in a 52-51 non-section win against Baldwin. It was the first of three non-section wins, but also the beginning of a seven-game winning streak that saw their section record change from 0-3 to 4-3 in a matter of a couple weeks.

"There were a lot of close games, but we played smart down the stretch," Washowich said. "We learned a lot more about our team and made a couple adaptations to our strengths. It came to a point where we became a confident basketball team and expected to win those games."

The Knights winning streak came to a halt in the same fashion their section slate began, with back-to-back losses to the top teams in the section, Hempfield and Kiski.

"We were beating Hempfield at halftime and had the ball against Kiski down three and missed a shot," Washowich said. "We didn't execute our game plan well enough."

Even in defeat, the matter in which the Knights performed against the best in the section proved to Washowich that his team can compete with anyone on any given night.

"There are a lot of good basketball teams but we are very capable, too," Washowich said. "You have to play smart and do the right thing and see what happens."

The Knights returned to their winning ways again with victories in two of their next three section games against Latrobe and Albert Gallatin to send their "magic number" to clinch a playoff spot down to one heading into their Senior Night showdown against Connellsville Tuesday.

"We know we are in a position to win out and get third place," Washowich said.

With a 57-47 win against the Falcons earlier in the season, the Knights came out strong, clinching a playoff spot and sweeping the season series in dramatic fashion with a 57-56 win.

With 1.8 seconds left and down by one, sophomore Gage McCracken scored the winning basket from under the hoop. Junior Curtis Perz led the way with 16 points.

"It has been a team effort," Washowich said. "We have nine guys who have played in our last 10 games. We have confidence in all of them. It helps that we can keep them fresh with our rotation."

With one regular-season game remaining, the Knights will clinch the No. 3 seed with a win Friday at Penn-Trafford. Although getting the best seed possible is ideal for the Knights, they know in order to accomplish their ultimate goal they are going to have to go through the best of the best.

"It can be very important depending who you draw," Washowich said. "We can get a No. 3 seed but still get a top team. Our overall record is 12-8. When you look at Class AAAA there are a lot of teams that have that record.

"The ultimate goal is to get in and to reach the championship and you have to play and beat the best to do that."

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