La Salle upsets Chester, advances to AAAA state final

La Salle F David Krmpotich didn't back down from Chester's bigs, posting 17 and 7 in the semifinals. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

La Salle forward David Krmpotich didn’t back down from Chester’s bigs, posting 19 and seven in the semifinals. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Jeff McDevitt (@JeffMcDev)

Back on February 16, the La Salle Explorers won a nail-biter against St. Joe’s Prep to advance to the Catholic League semis. A loss would have ended their season.

Then, on February 28, La Salle was down by two points to Central with just over a minute to go and on the verge of not even qualifying for the PIAA AAAA state tournament.

Now, after four wins in the state tournament, the Explorers are headed to Hershey for a chance to win the whole darn thing, after a 61-55 victory over Chester in the AAAA semifinals at Coatesville High.

It’s the first time La Salle College High School has been this far in the state tournament, and what a run it’s been. To think: a wrong bounce one way or the other, and it might not have even happened.

“I was just talking to one of our assistant coaches that we were coming into the season with such little experience. To get through the Catholic League with only four losses we felt fortunate. Our goal was to get a home playoff game in the Catholic League; truthfully, we could have never predicted this success. Our league is so tough if you cough wrong game up during the regular season, you might not even get a chance to play in states,” La Salle head coach Joe Dempsey said.

“It’s amazing to have this opportunity. I wouldn’t have thought we could have made it this far after that near-loss to Central. It just shows how hard our area is. It really just proves how tough it can be,” David Krmpotich said.

Behind 17 points from junior guard Shawn Witherspoon and 19 points and seven rebounds from junior forward Krmpotich, the Explorers neutralized Chester’s in-your-face style and sliced- and-diced the Clippers on defense en route to the upset.

Witherspoon and his backcourt mate Najee Walls handled the Clippers full-court press with few hiccups and the poise they’ve shown throughout this state playoff run. A season of going up against the best guards in the land in the Catholic League helped them prepare for a game like this.

“They were really scrappy on defense, but I have to give it to me and ‘Spoon, we really pride ourselves on taking care of the ball. We remained calm, and that’s really our motto here at La Salle,” Walls, who had nine points on the night, said.

“I think what you saw was the benefit of playing against Neumann and Carroll and Roman twice. There is absolutely no way to simulate that, and you can only hope that the kids listen to you. Najee and Shawn did a tremendous job. Our big guys handled the ball in the open floor very well as well,” Dempsey said.

Shawn Witherspoon led the Explorers with 19 points in a win over Chester. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Shawn Witherspoon led the Explorers with 19 points in a win over Chester. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Early on, it seemed Chester’s tactics were working, as La Salle didn’t even get a shot off in the first 3:45 of the game, turning the ball over three times. Dempsey took a timeout, settled the troops, and an early 4-0 deficit turned into 11-10 at the end of the first quarter.

“We didn’t look alert and when that happens against Chester it can be 40-0 real quick,” Dempsey said.

The second quarter saw both teams trade blows, and enter the half deadlocked in a 23-23- tie. Chester’s Mahir Johnson, who scored a game-high 26 including Chester’s last 16, hit a pretty jumper to beat the horn and it seemed all the momentum rested with the orange and black.

Foul trouble hurt both teams all night, with the Clippers frontcourt falling victim to the whistles more than the Explorers’. Starting big Gabe Adesina fouled out with 7:03 to go, and Stony Brook-singee Tyrell Sturdivant picked up his second midway through the second and third early in the third, keeping him on the bench more often than head coach Larry Yarbray would want.

The game plan on the defensive end was to limit Sturdivant and the rest of Chester’s bigs who had the serious size advantage on the Explorers, and it worked as Sturdivant finished with a quiet 10 points and six rebounds.

“Stopping the big men was a huge focus of ours. Keeping them off the glass and limiting them offensively,” Krmpotich said.

Krmpotich as well, picked up his third in the third quarter, but Jalen Herdsman, Shane Stark and Sean Greenberg helped the Explorers clean the glass and keep the Clippers to one shot. Dedicating themselves to rebounding allowed the Explorers to get stops , and all five guys in blue and gold were finding a body when a Chester shot went up.

“We have to play defense and we have to clean the glass. If you give Chester second chances, you’re in for a long, long night,” Dempsey said.

Mahir Johnson's 26 paced Chester against La Salle. (Photo: Tug Haines)

Mahir Johnson’s 26 paced Chester against La Salle. (Photo: Tug Haines)

A 7-0 run late in the third quarter was the turning point where Dempsey’s squad pull away, and got the late arriving student section (bus went to Unionville) get into the game as they could begin to taste the chocolate bars. Their guards drove with confidence, and the lead allowed La Salle to run clock in the fourth quarter and seal the upset, which shocked basketball fans all over the area.

“It’s shocking to people because you know how we graduated seven seniors and two All-Catholics last year so it’s going to be a big thing for our school to be the first team to make it up there,” Walls said.

With the win, the Explorers move on to the Giant Center where they’ll face New Castle, who downed Abington, Saturday night at 8 PM. After the game, Dempsey stressed the importance of every guy on his roster, and their selflessness during this improbable state tournament run.

“At this time of year it’s about character, and we have kids who have character. I can’t say enough about them. We have kids who haven’t seen game action in six or seven weeks, and they are in the gym busting their butt, pushing our starters, pushing our varsity guys and trying to get better. Never a cross-eye, never a mopey guy, they are cheering for each other, and as a high school teacher and educator that is the most gratifying thing,” Dempsey said.

“I told the guys in the locker room ‘grab it now’ because you never if you’ll have this opportunity again.”

But they do know how close they were to never having it in the first place.

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15 Responses to La Salle upsets Chester, advances to AAAA state final

  1. Paul Dewbery says:

    New Castle doesn’t have anybody over 6 – 3. I am wondering about the heights of LaSalle College starting 5

    • Big Red says:

      Yep, 6’3 240 lbs. and 3 more who can jump thru the ceiling!

    • tray says:

      height doesn’t mean anything to new castle they played against the biggest team in high school basketball HAMPTON!!!!6’8…6’6…6’4…6’3…5’11…and beat them 4 times this year!!!! I think its who could run up and down the court 4 32 min… and we know new castle can!!!!!GO CANES!!!!

      • Trusty says:

        sup tray

        you ever been to lasalle? u know what lasalle’s tuition is? you know that kids actually go to class and have to work hard to be on the team right? ever hard of CJ aiken? went to lasalle for a year and got booted for a 1.6.

        embarrassing that city boys are getting worked by a bunch of smart white boys. Harvard v Cincinatti.

  2. Dave says:

    Paul been looking for their roster also sizes aren’t even published on their school site. Would imagine they have at least a couple bigs to play competitive in the Philly Catholic league. New Castle has over-come the size issue all year, Abington had four or five over 6’5″ and Hampton who New Castle beat 4 times started 6’8″ and 6’7″ twins. One is headed to Pitt and other has several D1 offers. NC has some very quick athletic guards and it appears La Salle has a couple of good ones also so I am guessing the outcome may come down to turn-overs and who can handle the pressure the best.

  3. Chris Brown says:

    The starters are my brother Najee Walls at Point #4, Shawn Witherspoon at the 2 guard #24, Chucky Champion is SF (well kinda) #30 or Sean Greenberg #21, Dave Krmpotich at PF/C #25, and Jalen Herdsman at PF/C #5 GO EXPLORERS!

    1 Matthew Paulus 5’9″ 2017 Carversville, PA
    2 Jarrod Stukes 5’7″ 2017 Philadelphia, PA
    4 Kitt Najee Walls 5’11” 2015 Philadelphia, PA
    5 Jalen Herdsman 6′ 5″ 2014 Philadelphia, PA
    10 Daniel Corr 6’1″ 2015 Collegeville, PA
    11 Charles Hemcher 6’3″ 2015 Plymouth Meeting, PA
    12 Kevin Crozier 6’0″ 2015 Yardley, PA
    14 Matthew Dessner 6’5″ 2015 Lafayette Hill, PA
    21 Sean Greenberg 6’3″ 2014 North Wales, PA
    22 Michael Barrett 6’0″ 2014 Maple Glen, PA
    23 Langston Ellison 6’6″ 2014 Philadelphia, PA
    24 Shawn Witherspoon 6′ 1″ 2015 Philadelphia, PA
    25 David Krmpotich 6’7″ 2015 Conshohocken, PA
    30 Charles Champion 6’0″ 2016 Philadelphia , PA
    31 Ryan McTamney 6’4″ 2016 Philadelphia, PA
    33 Dominic Cuoci 6’3″ 2014 Doylestown, PA
    34 Shane Stark 6’3” 2016 East Norriton, PA

    • Dave says:

      Chris,

      Why ia La Salle’s kids from all different cities?

      • Paul Dewberry says:

        It’s very simple, catholic schools play with different rules. They can import players from any place they want, whereas city schools such as New Castle are not allowed to do so. A lot of times the erie catholic schools get their players from New York state. Why this has been permitted for so long I can’t figure out. Maybe somebody out there knows the answer. ped

      • Chris Brown says:

        Exactly what Paul said and I would be hard pressed to find a better reason behind it than what he explained….. I know a few players who are on Chester’s squad that are actually from Delaware so they are not even from the same state so I guess even some public schools can get away with it. I think its going to be the way things work moving forward because we at least in Philly have tons of Charter Schools popping up everywhere and those schools get a lot of transfers from all over the place. FYI you can throw a football from LaSalles campus into Philly so all the kids you see from Philadelphia are from that area but some of the other kids live an hour away.

  4. Dave says:

    Thanks all, I know the Catholic Schools in District 7 have been recruiting for years but at least out this way they are limited to the Diocese region. Lincoln Park (performing arts charter school who also boasts the tallest high school choir in the country) on the other hand has been robbing talent from all of western Pa.. I have a suggestion for the PIAA, since the private schools clearly dominate basketball at the class A and AA classifications, they should be required to play to levels higher in class. Then the west would have enough schools to fill out their PIAA brackets and these kids could actually go to school the day after the semi-final round games instead of three or four hour rides after the game. Not sure about out east but I know the private schools limit enrollments to target which class they feel they could better compete(win) in. I am not sure how Philly could solve their recruiting issues though since most schools are already quad A but making sure they are state residents would be a good start.

  5. dave says:

    Guess the length didn’t matter again. The girth of NC centers kept La Salle’s bigs out of the paint all night. Good game for 3 quarters but stamina and strength won the forth. Hats off to the two La Salle guards but they got little help from their inside people. That La Salle program needs some work in the weight room.

  6. Paul Dewberru says:

    Thanks Dave, you again hit the nail right on the head. This years team was a team of destiny. After playing together for the past 4 years, the top 6 players, all srs. will graduate then we will start rebuilding all over again. It would be nice to do it again, but, I don’t see it in the foreseeable future. Maybe LaSalle with some good younger players can do it again next year. To put it in a nutshell, it was a fantastic season. Coached by a relatively young coach who has had a 97% winning record for the 4 seasons he has been a coach at New Castle and George Jr. Republic. Paul,( a fan for last 60 years)

  7. Paul Dewberry says:

    Gee, I can’t even spell my own name right. ped

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