It was early on, after a turnover and missed rebound, that Dave Krmpotich was 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 their 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 District 1 champion Chester its fourth consecutive berth in the state final. The Clippers were bidding for their third state 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 face District 7 champion New Castle (30-0) for top honors.
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."
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 produced an 11-3 run to take a 39-32 lead into the final period.
With four minutes to go, Krmpotich's wide-open layup, off a feed from Greenberg, produced a 48-37 cushion for La Salle, which went 16 for 21 from the line in the second half.
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.