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Norwin girls extend winning streak to 8 with rout of Hempfield | TribLIVE.com
High School Basketball

Norwin girls extend winning streak to 8 with rout of Hempfield

Dave Mackall
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With only a Jan. 4 loss to Class 6A top-ranked North Allegheny blocking Norwin’s path to an unbeaten season so far, the fourth-ranked Knights have been met with little resistance as their climb continues back to WPIAL relevance in girls basketball.

The journey took another step Saturday with a 61-28 rout of cold-shooting Hempfield at the Westmoreland Sports Network Shootout at Seton Hill.

Emily Brozeski scored 16 points, and Olivia Gribble added 15 to lead Norwin (16-1) to its eighth consecutive victory.

The Knights, who claimed consecutive WPIAL championships in 2014 and ‘15, playing deep into the PIAA playoffs both times, broke open the game with a 22-4 edge in the third quarter to lead 49-17.

“I asked for my team to show up,” Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said with a wry smile, repeating what he told his players at halftime. “We knew going into this game that it was going to be a tough schedule for us, especially this time of the year.”

Norwin entered the 3:30 p.m. game after winning a Section 1-6A game at No. 5 Seneca Valley less than 12 hours earlier Friday night.

“It was a big (63-48) section win, a long bus ride home, up early (Saturday) and a mid-day game,” Brozeski said. “We went in as a team at halftime and embraced the idea that that wasn’t us in the first half. The third quarter was a better representation of what we’re capable of doing.”

Norwin used a 20-0 run in the third as Emily Brozeski and Gribble combined to score 13 points during the quarter. Hempfield trailed 18-11 before Norwin closed the second quarter on a 9-2 run.

Olivia Persin and Sarah Liberatore led Hempfield (6-10) with 10 points apiece. The Spartans have dropped four games in a row and seven of their past eight.

“We’ve played some tough teams this season,” first-year Hempfield coach Tom Brush said. “Norwin is in that mix, for sure.”

Neighboring Norwin and Hempfield find themselves in unfamiliar territory this season by playing in different sections after the WPIAL’s latest section shuffle.

While Norwin competes in Section 1 with top-five teams North Allegheny and Seneca Valley, Hempfield plays in Section 2 with No. 2 Peters Township and No. 3 Bethel Park.

Norwin used Saturday’s game as a tuneup for Tuesday’s rematch with North Allegheny at home. The Knights dropped a 55-44 decision in the first meeting against NA, their old nemesis.

The Tigers handed Brian Brozeski and Norwin their only loss in the 2015-16 season, 50-43, in the PIAA quarterfinals, a year after Norwin reached the PIAA semifinals, losing to Cumberland Valley, 56-40, to finish with a 24-5 record.

Gribble’s older sister, Alayna Gribble, was the catalyst for Norwin before playing parts of two injury-plagued seasons at Pitt. She dropped off the team earlier this season because of concerns with recurring concussions but remains in school.

“It’s very challenging, as a coach, to reflect and try to pigeonhole what would happen if this team plays that team from years ago,” Brozeski said. “The game evolves, the players evolve and sections evolve. Everything keeps changing.”

But Brozeski sees a lot of similarities between his current team and those elite Norwin teams that challenged for a PIAA championship.

“With this team, what I see that’s special is the fact that it’s building the same sort of camaraderie as those teams that had such great success,” he said. “I love watching our kids interact on the bench when they’re not in the game.

“People don’t realize how important our practices are and how tough it is to come to practice and grind out the hours and put in the time and not get any varsity time. I’m very proud of this group. We have people willing to put in the grinding hours, the dog hours to help elevate the team. That’s important to be successful and have an elite team.”

Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.