LA SALLE 61, CHESTER 55
It was early on, after a turnover and missed rebound, that Dave Krmpotich was briefly taken out of the game by La Salle coach Joe Dempsey.
"We went over a couple of things," Dempsey said of Krmpotich's brief stay on the bench in Tuesday night's PIAA Class AAAA boys' basketball semifinal against Chester. "I just wanted to calm him down, get a message across."
Apparently, it worked. With the 6-foot-7 junior netting 19 points, the Explorers surprised the vaunted Clippers, 61-55, at Coatesville to secure the program's first berth in the state final.
"It's beyond my wildest dreams," Krmpotich said of helping La Salle, District 12's third-place finisher, advance to Hershey. "I don't know how many people believed we could get here, but we had confidence in ourselves."
La Salle denied Chester its fourth consecutive berth in the state championship game. The Clippers were bidding for their third title in four seasons and ninth overall.
"The keys were playing good defense, making them work for every shot, and keeping them off the offensive glass," Dempsey said.
Krmpotich shot 6 for 8 from the field (1 for 1 from three-point range) and 6 for 8 from the line. He also grabbed five rebounds.
"Rebounding was a priority," Krmpotich said "We knew they had some big guys they were going to throw at us. We had to be ready for them."
Inside, Krmpotich, along with 6-5 senior Jalen Herdsman, battled against 6-8 towers Tyrell Sturdivant and Gabe Adesina. The Chester pair combined for only seven rebounds.
At 8 p.m. Saturday at the Giant Center, La Salle (23-6) will take on District 7 champion New Castle (30-0) for top honors. The Hurricanes bested Abington, 58-54, in Tuesday's other semifinal.
Even with a cast of juniors, Dempsey has stressed making the most of this run. "I told the kids, 'Go for it now,' the coach said. "You may never get an opportunity to get this close again. It's tough to get here."
Junior guard Shawn Witherspoon contributed 17 points and five boards; junior floor general Najee Walls recorded nine points; and senior Sean Greenberg managed six points and five boards off the bench.
Down by one in the middle of the third quarter, the Explorers, who overcame 11 turnovers, produced an 11-3 run to take a 39-32 lead into the final stanza.
"That's when we knew we had a pretty good chance at coming away with a 'W,' " Krmpotich said. "At that point, it was about not making any stupid mistakes to let them back in the game."
With 4 minutes to go, Krmpotich's wide-open layup, off a feed from Greenberg, gave La Salle, which went 16 for 21 from the line in the second half, a 48-37 cushion.
Senior guard Mahir Johnson paced the foul-plagued Clippers (25-6) with 26 points, including three fourth-quarter treys.
La Salle 10 13 16 22-61
Chester 11 12 9 23-55
LS: Najee Walls 9, Dave Krmpotich 19, Jalen Herdsman 7, Shawn Witherspoon 17, Sean Greenberg 6, Shane Stark 3.
C: Khaleeq Campbell 2, Conrad Chambers 6, Tyrell Sturdivant 10, Gabe Adesina 2, Mahir Johnson 26, Keyonte Watkins 7, Brewster Ward 2.