La Salle turns back St. Joseph’s Prep in playoff thriller

PHILADELPHIA — Dave Krmpotich, like all of his La Salle High teammates, was not at all pleased when the Explorers dropped a triple-overtime decision to Saint Joseph’s Prep last Sunday, a loss that forced the Explorers to visit the Prep Friday afternoon for a Philadelphia Catholic League quarterfinal playoff matchup.

It was Woodstock South, at least it seemed that way as the Prep’s Kelly Fieldhouse was jammed to the rafters for the playoff tilt, that was every bit as pressure packed as Sunday’s contest.

And there was Krmpotich, at the free-throw line with five seconds left on the clock, and the game tied, with a chance to give the Explorers a taste of redemption.

And he delivered, draining four free throws in those final five ticks to hand La Salle a 37-33 win and a berth in Wednesday’s PCL semifinals.

“I was struggling early on, I couldn’t get into it,’ Krmpotich said. “But finally, I was able to get into a rhythm.

“We didn’t want to lose to Prep twice in their own gym.’

It sure looked like that was going to happen to the Explorers, who broke out to an 8-0 lead in the game’s first three minutes, only to see the Prep bounce back and take its biggest lead, 31-26, with just under 5:00 left in the fourth quarter.

But the Explorers offense, inconsistent after the early flurry, finally caught a spark.

Guard Dan Corr, scoreless up to that point, calmly drilled a three from the right corner, and Shawn Witherspoon turned a steal into a pair of free throws that tied the game with 4:40 to play.

Prep’s Chris Clover (19 points), an unstoppable force throughout the game, pushed Prep back on top, when he hit one of two free throws, but Krmpotich put the Explorers up, 33-32, with a turnaround in the lane.

Prep’s big man, Pete Gayhardt, was fouled on a put-back attempt and tied the game at 33 with one of two at the line with 1:35 left.

The Explorers chose to melt down the clock, then dumped the ball down inside to Krmpotich in the final 10 seconds.

Fouled going strong to the basket, Krmpotich ignored the pressure of the moment, and a Prep fan who dashed out onto the court to distract him, and calmly hit two free throws to give La Salle a 35-33 lead.

After a timeout, a desperate Prep tried a long pass into the frontcourt, but Krmpotich intercepted the pass, absorbed a foul and sank two more free throws to seal it.

“I told our guys down the stretch to stay calm,’ said La Salle head coach Joe Dempsey. “We’d been in this situation before. Last year, we played seven win-or-go-home games (en route to the state finals) and I think we knew what to do being in that situation again.

“The game plan was not to beat ourselves. (Prep) is a tremendously well-coached team and extremely talented.

“I told (Prep head coach) Speedy (Morris) it was a shame one of us had to lose today, and he graciously said, ‘ You were the better team today,”

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