La Salle stunned by McCaskey

ROYERSFORD — It was a four-second excursion from ecstasy to agony.

In one moment of Saturday afternoon’s PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal basketball playoff game, La Salle’s David Krmpotich was scoring in the lane to put the Explorers up by a single point with less than six seconds showing on the fourth-quarter clock.

But a heartbeat or two later, there was J.P. McCaskey senior Tyler Owens with a putback that gave the Red Tornadoes a 60-59 victory, eliminating the returning state finalists from postseason play.

“The game could have gone either way, they just made one more play than us,’ said Explorers head coach Joe Dempsey, as the disconsolate Explorers scattered to find moral support from family and friends.

“They just kept getting layups,’ said Explorers forward Ryan McTamney. “They were able to get into the lane, and there wasn’t much we could do about it.’

To be sure, in a contest that spanned the style-meter from all-out sprint to demolition derby, the Tornadoes prevailed primary due to their muscle inside.

“It was a very physical game,’ Dempsey said, “and that’s been a problem for us.

“We’re not exactly the thickest group around.’

The Tornadoes began the game much like their name.

Junior guard Kobe Gantz had 11 first-quarter points, as McCaskey went up, 15-6, with 1:40 left in the opening period.

“We really got hurt when we tried to help out on Gantz,’ Dempsey said. “When our guys came to try and double him, that left their guys inside to clean up.’

La Salle got back on track, and behind seven second-quarter points from Najee Walls, turned that first-quarter hole inside out, and actually led at halftime, 32-31.

“Hey, we knew how good McCaskey was,’ Dempsey said. “Everyone pointed to them having 10 losses, but we watched them and knew how good they were.

“A lot of their losses came in games that didn’t mean much, non-league games and things like that.’

The two sides exchanged four-and-five-point runs throughout the second half, although neither side led by more than five points at any juncture.

In one moment, Gantz was nailing a three-pointer (and reaching the 1,000-point mark in his scholastic career), in the next Walls was answering with a tough drive to the basket out of the Explorers’ four-corner set.

It was obvious the game was going to come down to the wire.

And so it did.

La Salle took a 57-56 lead with 49 seconds left in the fourth when Walls made one of two free throws.

After a timeout, a baseline runner by Gantz pushed the Tornadoes back on top, 58-57, with 20 seconds to play.

La Salle went the timeout route, and brought its faithful to their feet when Krmpotich went hard into the lane and scored over two McCaskey defenders.

But McCaskey got the ball in quickly and headed down court.

A Gantz shot was partially deflected. But Owens came out of nowhere to grab the carom, and in one motion banked in the game-winning field goal.

The clock expired, sending the McCaskey fans spilling onto the floor in celebration.

But La Salle had taken a timeout, and when the dust settled had 2.1 seconds to get off a shot.

The inbounds pass came to Krmpotich, who desperately attempted a half-court heave. But the ball was stripped by a Tornadoes defender, and the victory party could begin in earnest.

And all Dempsey could do was pick up the pieces.

“I just left the locker room with a teary-eyed group of kids,’ the coach said. “But this is a special group of kids.

“Seniors like Najee, David, Dan (Corr) and Shawn (Witherspoon), they were great and they did so much for this program.

“It’s great when your best players are also your hardest workers. They have a lot to be proud of, and we’re very proud of them.’

FREE THROWS: Gantz led all scorers with 26 points, while Owens had a team-best eight rebounds. … Walls had 17 points for La Salle while Krmpotich added 14 points and eight rebounds.

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