ROYERSFORD — When it comes down to La Salle's win over Conestoga on Saturday afternoon, Dave Krmpotich started it and the guards Shawn Witherspoon, Najee Walls and Charles Champion finished it.
Everyone had a piece in the Explorer's 64-58 victory at Spring-Ford High School in the PIAA AAAA first rounder. Krmpotich's height — marked at 6-foot-7 — gave the swingman a clear advantage in elevating over his opponents early. Once he started knocking down 15-footers, Conestoga scrambled to adjust and find a matchup suitable to the Conshohocken native's tall frame as he scored 10 in the first half.
"We really battled, they had enough athleticism to challenge our athleticism, definitely,' Krmpotich said, who finished with 16 points. "My success early came from the foul line jump shots, those mid-range jumpers. I was keeping the ball high so nobody could get to it and going to the basketball. That's what I do best.'
La Salle led by seven points at the half and extended it to 13 points after three quarters.
Conestoga's late rally came in large part to the athleticism of junior forward Martin Dorsey, who led all scorers with 22 points — a dozen of which came in the fourth quarter. The Explorers slept on defense, allowed a couple backdoors while Dorsey barreled his way into the lane.
La Salle coach Joe Dempsey had started the fourth playing keep-away, trying to burn some clock and keep the ball out of the Pioneers' hands. However, with less than three minutes remaining in the game, Conestoga had battled back to just two points.
"I wasn't pulling it out to try to slow the game down, I was pulling it out to try to make sure we didn't foul anymore,' Dempsey said. "I just thought that the more possessions they get, the more likely this game is going to get stopped with fouls.
"That's the one way I thought they could creep back into it if we gave them foul opportunities with the clock stopped.'
Up against the door in a one-possession game, Dempsey looked to his ball-handlers to lead the Explorers to victory.
"Late in the game they started face-guarding me, so I had to work off the ball. And while the defense was sleeping, I had to step and get to the ball,' said junior guard Walls, who was hounded by Pioneer defenders late in the contest.
Witherspoon stepped up big time while the Pioneers' press was on. Daniel Corr and Walls had success from three-point-land and Conestoga responded with spreading out a perimeter defense. Witherspoon, ball in hand, forced his way into the lane either looking to take a foul or dump the ball off to Krmpotich for a slam.
"I just had a natural confidence in myself knowing that only I could stop me,' Witherspoon said.
Around a minute remaining, Zack Yonda of Conestoga got open and drained a corner three to bring the score to 58-56. Dempsey quickly called timeout, and on the in-bounds Witherspoon cut to the basket and hit the layup with a foul.
"I think it was my fault that he got the open three,' Witherspoon said. "I just had to get a basket. I just knew he was going to slide under me, so I knew I had to make that layup. They hadn't called that all game, and I knew they weren't going to change it under two minutes.'
Another guard, Charles Champion, sank three of four from the line to close out the game for La Salle. And with the win, the Explorers have once again proven their resiliency in close games — not necessarily a common attribute of a young and unproven team, but they continue to prove themselves each game they play.
"We take pride in staying calm at all times, and that comes from all of our captains,' Walls said. "We just try to keep everyone calm no matter the situation.'
La Salle will be back on the court Wednesday when they will play against Cedar Crest High School in the second round of the PIAA AAAA state playoffs.