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Another Cinderella run for 13-14 La Salle in Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media Team of the Decade Tournament

La Salle's Shawn Witherspoon drives downcourt past New Castle's Jake McPhatter at the PIAA AAAA basketball championship at Hershey's Giant Center. (Bob Raines/MediaNews Group File)

Expectations weren’t high heading into the 2013-14 season for La Salle.

The Explorers were coming off a 15-8 season and lost first team All-Philadelphia Catholic League guard Amar Stukes and second team wing Steve Smith to graduation. They returned zero starters and brought in zero transfers.

The 2013-14 season started with an 8-1 non-league slate, losing the season opener to North Allegheny before rattling off eight straight wins, including victories over Frankford and Abington.

After beating Father Judge to start the PCL schedule, they dropped back-to-back games against Neumann-Goretti and Roman Catholic. La Salle followed with six straight wins, including a 69-67 overtime win over Archbishop Wood, before losing at home to rival St. Joe’s Prep. They closed the regular season with wins over Lansdale Catholic and Archbishop Ryan and a loss to Archbishop Carroll to head to the PCL playoffs with a 17-5 overall record.

After a first-round bye, they avenged their regular season loss against the Prep with a 38-33 win behind 16 points from leading scorer junior forward Dave Krmpotich.

La Salle exited the PCL playoffs with a semifinal loss against Roman, but they bounced back with a 53-50 win over Central to secure District 12’s third and final spot in the PIAA-4A state playoffs.

Head coach Joe Dempsey’s team saved their best basketball for states.

In the first round, junior guard Shawn Witherspoon scored 19 points and sophomore Chuck Champion hit three key free throws down the stretch to beat Conestoga, 64-58.

La Salle needed overtime to get past Cedar Crest, 49-43, in the second round. The Explorers erased a nine-point fourth quarter deficit to force the extra session. Junior guard Najee Walls scored 22 points to send his side to the Elite Eight.

In the quarterfinals, La Salle was matched up against defending state champ Lower Merion. A 22-5 start and double-double by senior forward Jalen Henderson (14 points and 11 rebounds) added up to a comfortable 71-48 win.

It didn’t get any easier in the semis. La Salle took on District 1 champion and perennial state power Chester and, behind 19 points from Krmpotich and 17 from Witherspoon, came away with a 61-55 win.

The dream season came to an end in the state championship game. The Explorers lost to undefeated New Castle, 52-39, to end the season with a 23-7 record.

La Salle is making a very similar underdog run in the Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media Boys Basketball Team of the Decade tournament. The 13th-seeded Explorers are facing No. 2 Archbishop Wood 2016-17 in the championship game this week. Fans will decide the winner by voting on Twitter @ReporterSports. Polls close Friday at noon.

During La Salle’s historic run to the state title game they knocked off District 1 powers Lower Moreland and Chester. In the Best of the Decade bracket, they’ve beaten two of the other elite programs in District 1, Abington and Plymouth Whitemarsh. The 2013-14 Explorers opened the tournament with a win over No. 4 Abington 2013-14. In the quarters they took out No. 5 Abington 2017-18 and in the Final Four they defeated the top-seeded Plymouth Whitemarsh 2009-10 team that won a state championship.

La Salle’s 2013-14 season ended with a state championship game loss against New Castle. The Explorers and their fans hope to avoid a similar fate in the Best of the Decade final against Archbishop Wood.

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