Juniors lead the way for La Salle

RON TARVER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER La Salle celebrates after victory over Chester.
RON TARVER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER La Salle celebrates after victory over Chester.
Posted: March 20, 2014

EVERYTHING was coming undone for La Salle High School. Minutes earlier the Explorers held a commanding 11-point lead over Chester in the PIAA semifinals. Now, their lead was just three, and Chester had the ball off a La Salle turnover.

Just when everything was going wrong, the Explorers' junior class stepped up and made it right.

Najee Walls calmly stepped to the line and hit two free throws, then came up with a steal and a layup to seal last night's 61-54 win that gave the Explorers their first berth in the Class AAAA state championship against New Castle on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Hershey.

The junior trio of Walls, Shawn Witherspoon and David Krmpotich, who had 17 points, have led La Salle all season, and did so again last night. Walls and Witherspoon handled Chester's dangerous press with ease, making all the right decisions.

"It's just being calm," Walls said.

"We just wanted to stay poised," added Witherspoon. "We just needed to take our time and stay poised."

Their calmness on the court helped coach Joe Dempsey stay calm on the sideline, for the most part.

He knows handling the ball is one of his team's strengths, and has faith in them to do so.

"I tell those guys they are two Philly guards," Dempsey said. "They are cut out of Philly Catholic League cloth. They are strong, they handle the ball, they are unselfish, they protect it, they are quick, they go to the rim strong, they finish, they hit their foul shots. When you have two guys like that, it is a real luxury."

Walls was not much of a scorer last night, but distributed the ball very well. Witherspoon did show flashes of his offensive prowess, getting to the basket at will. It was their combined composure under pressure that helped the Explorers win.

"It's the same thing we have been doing all year," Walls said. "Staying calm. We are pretty good at doing that so we just continued with our game plan and just took care of the ball. We were calm out there and got stops."

"It's great to rely on them," Krmpotich said. "I don't know if I could handle all that pressure they were taking. It's just really great what they do out there."

The consistency of Witherspoon and Walls has helped build team confidence.

"As soon as we got admitted into the state playoffs" Krmpotich said when asked when he knew a run was possible. "We knew anybody who gets in has a chance to win. Looking at the bracket, we knew there were some beatable teams in there we could definitely get past. Dreams come true."

"I knew there was something special about our team, and I have confidence in our guys," Witherspoon added. "That was never a problem for us."

Dempsey has been coaching at La Salle in some capacity for 24 years, so he knows a bit about high-schoolers. The confidence they have now is good, but they have to do everything to keep it going into the title game.

"Confidence is fleeting with high school kids, and we have been able to play pretty well," Dempsey said. "It's fleeting, and that's why you play sports. Some things won't go well, and you have to fight through it."

The Explorers have one more game to go, as Dempsey reminded a fan who congratulated him in the hallway.

"I told the guys in the locker room to grab it now," Dempsey said. "The nature of young people is to think you are going to get back here some day and you are going to have another opportunity, but you may never get another opportunity to get back and play for a state title. We are going to try to make the best of it, that's for sure."

La Salle has a few days to prepare for the biggest game in school history. While basketball is foremost on the players' minds, they still have to do their school work.

"The only bad part of this is I have three tests tomorrow," Witherspoon joked.

At the end of the week, there will be another test - on a basketball court with the state championship on the line.

Class A semifinal * 

Nazeer Bostick and Samir Doughty each scored 17 points to lead Math, Civics and Sciences to a 76-53 win over St. John Neumann in the state Class A semifinals.

Trailing 41-38 at the half, MC&S outscored Neumann of Williamsport, 38-12 in the second half to earn the win. MC&S will face Lincoln Park Charter for the state title on Friday at 2 p.m. in Hershey

Mike Watkins added 15 points for MC&S and Lou Myers chipped in 10.

Class AA semifinal

* Constitution reached the state finals with a 55-44 win over E.L. Meyers.

Constitution will play Seton-La Salle for the title 2 p.m. on Saturday at Hershey.

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