With exactly one minute to play, and after Conestoga had cut a 13-point deficit to only two points, La Salle junior Shawn Witherspoon took it to the hole, hit a layup and got fouled. After hitting his free throw attempt, the Explorers went up by five, and the rest was history.
The Explorers led for nearly the entire contest and eventually defeated the Pioneers 64-58 in a PIAA Class AAAA first round playoff at Spring-Ford High School on Saturday afternoon.
Witherspoon led the Explorers (20-6) with 19 points, five rebounds and two assists while lifting the District 12's No. 3 seed to the second round for a Wednesday night meeting with the winner of the Cedar Crest, a 66-52 winner over Spring-Ford."I just couldn't let my team down, Witherspoon said. "We needed that bucket and we had worst-case scenario after calling timeout and not executing. And it was my fault that they got back that close because I didn't hustle back on defense like I should've. I think we lost focus and the lead got too big and we should've stayed aggressive more on offense and defense, but we gave them the momentum.'
Momentum or not, the Explorers' lead was big enough for them to hang on and keep their season alive."Luckily, we build such a big lead, but they're high school kids,' La Salle coach Joe Dempsey said. "We would've loved to jump on them to 20 points, but we threw the ball away a couple times and the kids fought through it and manufactured stress. We were able to play through those mistakes and I'm proud of the way we hung tough.'
La Salle's Najee Walls hit a three-pointer in the final seconds of the first quarter to put the Explorers up 11-8. Outside of a tie at 20-20, the Explorers led for the remainder of the game, taking a 29-22 lead into the half and increasing that to 47-34 after three quarters.
In the fourth, Conestoga (25-7) went on an 18-7 run to cut the La Salle lead to only two points, but Witherspoon took care of things when his team needed him the most."We did the small stuff and that turned into big stuff,' Witherspoon said."Shawn (Witherspoon) was just tremendous,' Dempsey said. "Him and Najee Walls are both battle-tested Catholic League guards and they came through. I told them before the game that Conestoga is a good team, but they've been through wars in the Catholic League. Their floor game is tremendous and they share the ball and play defense real nice as well. They're a real nice tandem.'
Walls added 11 points, while junior big man David Krmpotich scored 18 for the Explorers.
The Pioneers were led by Martin Dorsey, who scored 12 points in the fourth quarter and finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
La Salle (64): Walls 3 3-4 11; Champion 0 3-4 3; Greenberg 1 1-1 3; Krmpotich 8 2-5 18; Ellison 0 0-0 0; Corr 2 0-0 6; Witherspoon 5 8-10 19; Herdsman 2 0-1 4; Stark 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 17-25 64.
Conestoga (58): Caldwell 6 0-0 13; Vanderventer 0 0-0 0; Yonda 4 0-0 10; Vila 1 2-5 4; Diehl 4 1-1 9; Utter 0 0-0 0; Dorsey 8 6-6 22; Larkin 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 9-12 58.
Three-point goals: Walls 2, Corr 2, Witherspoon; Yonda 2, Caldwell.
La Salle 11 18 18 17—64
Conestoga 8 14 12 24—58