There were plenty of options for Norwin coach Brian Brozeski to choose from when handing out the game ball after a monumental win Thursday night against North Allegheny.

Kendall Berger led the team with 21 points in another standout performance, Ava Christopher added 10 points while making some tough buckets near the basket, and Lauren Palangio dominated defensively with several big-time blocks along with 9 points. But in the end, the choice for Brozeski was a simple one — and it wasn’t going to anybody who played in the game.

Moments after the Knights polished off a 64-44 home win against the defending WPIAL Class 6A champions, Brozeski led his team toward the bleachers and had Ava and Alexa Kobus deliver the game ball to their grandmother, Kathleen Shaw. Her husband, Robert Shaw, died Sunday at age 75. He was a Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient who never missed a chance to watch his granddaughters play.

The Kobus sisters shared a long embrace with their grandmother, who was visibly overcome with emotion, and several other players and coaches also did the same.

“[Shaw] loved coming to the games,” Brozeski said. “We had a family thing for tonight. It was something nice to be able to give [the game ball] to her. … It’s more than just a game.”

A 6-foot senior forward, Ava Kobus scored 8 points in the game, including a rainbow 3-pointer that seemingly fell straight down from the rafters and right through the basket. Brozeski noted after the game that she may have been throwing it up to her late grandfather, and Kobus didn’t exactly deny it.

“He blessed it,” Kobus said with a smile.

The game was much closer than the final score would indicate, although Norwin maintained the lead virtually from start to finish. The Knights (14-3, 6-0) raced to an early 8-0 advantage midway through the first quarter, but the Tigers (14-2, 4-2) soon battled back to tie the score, 12-12. Another quick run by Norwin gave the Knights some separation, but every time they seemed to take control, North Allegheny would find a way to strike back.

Norwin held a 30-22 halftime lead that soon ballooned to a 14-point cushion at 39-25 early in the third quarter. Still, the Tigers refused to go away, as Caroline Henderson, Kellie McConnell and Lydia Betz took turns making baskets to cut into the deficit. Henderson finished with a team-high 17 points for North Allegheny.

Norwin’s Ava Kobus tries to get past North Allegheny’s defense Thursday night at Norwin High School. Norwin won, 64-44, while dedicating the victory to her late grandfather. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

With the Knights leading, 42-35, entering the final quarter, it didn’t take long for the game to get out of reach. Norwin executed flawlessly on both ends of the floor to put together an 11-0 run less than three minutes into the fourth, effectively putting the game on ice with a 53-35 lead. Both coaches pulled their starters in the final two minutes as the Knights put the finishing touches on one of their biggest regular-season wins in a long time.

“I think everyone on this team has the confidence that we can be great,” Berger said. “All of us are super excited, but we’re just excited to see where we can go from here.”

Now with Norwin in the driver’s seat in Class 6A Section 1, a top seed for the WPIAL tournament is looking all but assured. Brozeski isn’t satisfied, though, and neither are his players. After all, the Knights know all too well they might be seeing North Allegheny again — and the Tigers are a whole different team come playoff time. Plus, Peters Township is undefeated and looking like a major threat to win it all in Class 6A.

But don’t forget, Norwin has yet to lose to a WPIAL opponent this season, and all three of their losses were extremely close games against top-notch competition in Spring-Ford, Kennedy Catholic and Wheeling Park, W.Va.

“Everyone on this team hates to lose, but we take lots of things from losses,” Berger said. “[Those losses were] definitely building blocks. Losing early on in the season, I think, helped create a better team now.”

Norwin’s Kendall Berger tries to get around North Allegheny’s defense on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 at Norwin High School. Berger scored a game-high 21 points as Norwin won, 64-44. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

One thing is for certain — no team in Class 6A will be more battle-tested than the Knights come playoff time. And no matter who they end up facing in the postseason, you can bet they’ll be ready. For now, though, they get to cherish a win that meant just a little bit more than a typical regular-season game — for more reasons than one.

“This game definitely meant something,” Palangio said. “It was for our community. It was for us as a family. … We definitely came together for each other.”

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at