Dan's Spin
Basketball 2013-14

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  Dan Spinelli was one of our youngest website writers ever. Now he's a senior at La Salle High, with an education at Penn on his doorstep, but has been attending scholastic events for what seems like forever and he's pumped up about being able to express his thoughts on the Explorers and other squads. Thanks for your contributions, Dan!
  You may reach at Dan at dspin3@comcast.net.
  


Dan is now doing shows about Philly high school sports with his buddy, Nick Mandarano, who attends
Lansdale Catholic.
Here's the link . . .
http://www.30minutesofmadness.com/highschool.html

 

MARCH 22
PIAA CLASS AAAA FINAL
New Castle 52, La Salle 39
(At Hershey's Giant Center)

  No matter its reputation, Hershey did not prove too sweet a place for the La Salle Explorers. Their Cinderella run in the PIAA AAAA State Tournament came to a bittersweet ending at the hands of undefeated New Castle High School. La Salle played as good of a defensive game as it has all year, but shooting struggles (especially from three point range and the foul line) let a senior-laden New Castle team escape with the state championship.

  The bitter emotions that accrue from such a loss are unavoidable. But let us not forget how improbable and historically significant La Salle’s run has been. They defeated two teams in the quarterfinals and semifinals that hold a combined 15 state titles. They played mostly underclassmen and held their own in the best league in the state. And, they defied the odds when practically everyone expected them to lose early in the state tournament…well, almost everyone. La Salle administrative assistant Rita Cooney has a deal with her nephew, Will. He draws up a list of things he wants. Rita does her best to meet his desires. A week ago, Will requested a trip to Hershey. Perhaps, little Will Cooney saw success in the Explorers’ future as they soon then beat Chester, ensuring Will and the rest of the Explorer faithful a trip to Hershey. It is just a shame that the trip’s ending could not have been as sweet.

  La Salle kept the score close early and held the lead on numerous occasions throughout the first half. Senior Langston Ellison blocked a late inbounds pass to keep the score tied 16-16 going into halftime. New Castle finally broke away in the third quarter after going on a 6-0 run with two treys by senior Jake McPhatter. Eventually, New Castle extended the lead to 10 points and the Explorers could not get close again. Junior Najee Walls led La Salle with 15 points and scored the Explorers’ only trey of the game. His classmate, Shawn Witherspoon, scored 10 points and drove to the basket frequently. Junior Dave Krmpotich battled for eight points against New Castle’s athletic big men, including senior Stew Allen. New Castle senior guard Malik Hooker (without a doubt one of the most athletic players I have seen all year) scored 13 points and was a bear to handle all day. New Castle went 15-22 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, and that was more than enough to cement their victory.

  All good things must come to an end. So it goes with the La Salle Explorers’ magical run in the 2014 PIAA State Tournament, and so it goes with my time as a reporter for TedSilary.com. My first report for this website was in August of 2010, before I even entered La Salle as a freshman. I need to primarily thank Ted Silary for giving me the opportunity to write for this website and offering me endless support and advice over the years. Additionally, La Salle’s administration, especially athletic director Joe Parisi, have been unceasingly helpful and complimentary toward me for my column. Mr. Bill Wasylenko, a La Salle alum and my neighbor, was incredibly kind and influential during my early stages of writing this column. Mr. Bob and Mary Moran were supportive since the beginning of my column. Mr. Rob Johnson is a true asset to La Salle’s athletic program and has been invaluable to me for his advice and knowledge. I would be remiss if I did not thank Explorers head coach Joe Dempsey, who over the four years I have known him has been the epitome of class. Managing the La Salle basketball team and writing columns has not always been the easiest commitment for my hectic schedule. But, I never once wanted to stop being a part of the La Salle team and I thank Coach Dempsey and his staff for putting up with me. Coaches Jim Sheedy, Ben Campetti, Tim Hueber, Kevin Miller, and Ace Davis are a pleasure to be around and I am so incredibly thankful to have known them for four years. I owe a special thanks to Bill Donohoe, who brought me onto Philly Pheud with him and has always been a major supporter of my column, and Alex Brown, whose freshman team I managed four years ago and who gave me the opportunity to bust my dad’s chops after Coach Brown beat my dad’s team two years in a row.

  Well, who am I forgetting? My parents of course. My mom never complained when, even as a freshman, I dragged her to varsity football and basketball games during my quest to write about all of them. And I thank my dad for giving me endless column ideas with his near-encyclopedic knowledge of the Catholic League and its history. But, alas, this column would not exist without the players. I am lucky to write about athletes whom I know and respect all too well. The seniors—Jalen Herdsman, Sean Greenberg, Mick Barrett, Langston Ellison, and Dom Cuoci—I have watched play now for four years (Cuoci’s two year break notwithstanding). It has been my pleasure to see these guys develop as players and people. I only wish they could have ended their illustrious careers with a state championship.

  There are too many students in the world who are unhappy with their high school. I am so lucky to attend a school that I love and that has given me incredible opportunities. Through my experiences at La Salle, my love and knowledge of sports has only been enhanced. So, for the last time as a student reporter on TedSilary.com, GO LA SALLE!

  P.S.—I’m sure I forgot to thank many people. I ask you to please forgive me, and know that I am incredibly thankful for your advice, experience, and compliments.


MARCH 18
PIAA CLASS AAAA SEMIFINAL
La Salle 61, Chester 55
(At Coatesville)
  For just a moment, pretend with me that it is November 15th. The weather is getting colder and basketball is again moving into the forefront of the high school athletic year. You are told on this day that when the postseason arrives, La Salle College High School will defeat Lower Merion and Chester in consecutive weeks/games, earning a spot to the state championship. Now, imagine your reaction. You might say, “Wait a minute, La Salle graduated two Division 1 players. None of their starting five received substantive varsity minutes last year. You have to be pulling my chain.”

  Such was the amazement, excitement, and bewilderment of legions of La Salle fans that trekked out to Coatesville High to watch their beloved Explorers punch a ticket to Hershey. In a hard-fought game, La Salle took a sizeable advantage of eleven points in the second half before fending off a late Chester rally. In the end, La Salle shocked Pennsylvania basketball fans everywhere by catapulting their underclassmen-laden team into the 4A state title game.

  So, without further ado, let’s recap this game! The Explorers proved their might early in the game. After falling behind 4-0 in the first quarter, a free throw by junior Najee Walls and a layup by senior Sean Greenberg injected life into the La Salle faithful. A trey (yes you read that right—a trey) by junior Dave Krmpotich really got the La Salle fans cheering loudly. A buzzer beating jumper by Chester junior Keyonte Watkins gave Chester an 11-10 advantage at the end of the first quarter.

  Chester fell into some foul trouble in the second quarter, as they were called for the team’s seventh foul at the 5:14 mark. La Salle’s offense in the quarter came mostly from a dynamic performance by junior Shawn Witherspoon, who scored the first seven of his 19 total points in the second quarter. Another Chester buzzer beater ended the quarter—this time it was a basket by senior Mahir Johnson. We went into halftime deadlocked at 23-23.

  In what appeared to be a bad omen, Krmpotich notched his third foul early in the third quarter. However, La Salle earned a consistent lead off of good offensive possessions. At the 1:37 mark of the third quarter, the Explorers held a 37-29 advantage over the fearsome Chester Clippers. Krmpotich and senior Jalen Herdsman combined for eight points in the quarter, while Witherspoon continued his productive day with five more points in the quarter. Additionally, sophomore Shane Stark provided some valuable minutes when “Krump” sat the bench with some foul trouble. Stark has definitely come into his own during the state playoffs due to his strong play against Lower Merion last week and now Chester. The nucleus of La Salle’s future teams is looking bright with him and fellow sophomore Chuck Champion.

  A 39-32 La Salle lead at the end of the third quarter became a 48-37 lead at the 3:50 mark of the fourth quarter. Throughout the game, Chester had been alternating between a man and zone defense, but La Salle stayed on their toes and held the ball for long possessions. The strategy worked well as the Explorers almost always scored off of these elongated possessions. Chester did a nice job forcing turnovers, but often times their offensive possessions would comprise a quick drive and missed basket. Big men and seniors Brewster Ward and Gabe Adesina fouling out in the fourth quarter surely did not assist Chester in their comeback. Only when Chester started draining outside shots did this game get seriously close again.

  At the 1:40 mark of the fourth quarter, Mahir Johnson was fouled on a three-point shot attempt. He drained all free throws and within seconds, hit an actual trey. After Johnson’s virtual six point play, Chester pulled within three—51-48. However, the Chester Clippers could not regain the lead. La Salle, in the fashion of a truly clutch team, hit EVERY foul shot down the stretch. In order: Walls, Witherspoon, Greenberg, and Krmpotich all drained their foul shots to go a perfect 8-8 in crunch time. The Explorers were 12-15 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.

  Well, amidst shock and awe, the Explorers are in finals of the PIAA AAAA State Tournament. And, their next opponent is New Castle. This is a team with an Ohio State football commit (Malik Hooker) and a perfect record (30-0). After vanquishing the defending state champions in Lower Merion, and the four-time champions of the last ten years in Chester, it appears that La Salle is underdog to yet another battle. Well, what better icing on the cake is there for any true underdog than victory over an undefeated team?

  On Saturday, La Salle as a school competes for two state championships. After the swimming team cruised to its third straight state title, the hockey and basketball teams will compete for their own state titles this weekend. On Monday, little La Salle College High School could claim possession to three state championships this winter. Wow. What an achievement! The fun truly never ends in this wonderful world of high school sports.


MARCH 15
PIAA CLASS AAAA QUARTERFINAL
La Salle 71, Lower Merion 48
(At Colonial Elementary School, P-W)

  Clad in their St. Patrick’s Day green, the passionate group of Lower Merion fans strode into Plymouth Whitemarsh’s gym. With a few minutes to go before tipoff, the fans belted out the famous late-game chant: “I BELIEVE. I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!” With a cautious awareness of superstition, I whispered to my fellow La Salle junior, Gary McCabe, “Well, Lower Merion just wrote their death certificate.” Roman Catholic’s fans began singing the infamous chant during the Catholic League semifinals—immediately after, the Explorers mounted an extraordinary run to cut Roman’s lead to only three points. Doing the chant before the game even starts? That takes some GUTS. And the Lower Merion fans had a stupendous supply of guts. Until the waning moments of the game, they supported their team. They cheered during the game’s dreariest moments. They gave a standing ovation to their team’s seniors. So while I must poke some fun at their premature “I BELIEVE” chant, I would be remiss if I did not compliment the classiness and unyielding support of Lower Merion and their fans.

  Now, when I whispered that little prediction into Gary’s ear, I was completely unaware that the next 32 minutes of basketball would be among the most enthralling and bizarre that I have seen in the last four years. La Salle held Lower Merion’s fearsome offense to five points in the first quarter and jumped out to a 22-5 lead in the second quarter. From that point, Lower Merion could never cut the lead to less than thirteen. In a physical manifestation of Explorer coach Joe Dempsey’s fantasy, La Salle scored on all cylinders and played about as complete of a defensive game as I have seen them play. Each quarter seemed to feature a new hero. Junior Shawn Witherspoon owned the second quarter with 4 field goals to extend La Salle’s lead. Senior Jalen Herdsman, besides being an absolute monster on the boards, scored nine points in the third quarter. And junior Najee Walls, with a solid 7-9 performance from the free-throw line, scored eight points in the fourth quarter. From a purely unemotional standpoint, La Salle was never in a position to lose this game. However, Lower Merion’s sterling reputation, combined with the high-stakes nature of a state quarterfinal game, provided some consistent doubt: “When is the ball going to drop? When does this fairy tale end?” Only when the buzzer finally sounded could I enjoy the thrill of this dominating victory.

  My recollection of this game comes to me more in moments than in any linear pattern: Sean Greenberg’s five points off of the bench in the first quarter. Jalen Herdsman guarding the basket like a man possessed, and coming up with more rebounds than I could count. Shane Stark’s six points off of the bench in the first half. Jalen Herdsman’s two and-one buckets to cement La Salle’s lead in the second and third quarters. Sean Greenberg notching three steals in under a minute to start the second half. Dave Krmpotich getting his third foul in the third quarter as Lower Merion cut the lead to thirteen points. Watching the La Salle players, in response to Krump’s foul, look at each other without any fear and wordlessly communicating, “We got this.” A big-time basket by crowd-favorite Mick “Mickey B” Barrett in the fourth quarter. And one of the most-balanced score sheets in a PIAA state quarterfinal game: Herdsman-14, Witherspoon-14, Walls-13, Greenberg-9, Stark-6, Krmpotich-5, Corr-4, Champion-4, Barrett-2.

  Lower Merion was no slouch of a team. Seniors JaQuan Johnson (11pts) and Justin McFadden (16pts) are star athletes and stellar players. Junior Jule Brown (16pts) was a force to be reckoned with under the basket. No sensible fan of Pennsylvania basketball can look upon Lower Merion’s storied basketball program without an overwhelming sense of awe. Coach Gregg Downer is one of the best coaches in the state and his program, Kobe or not, is one of the best Pennsylvania has ever seen…which makes La Salle’s achievement all the more remarkable.

  Coaches Joe Dempsey, Jim Sheedy, Ben Campetti, Bill Donohoe, Alex Brown, Ace Davis, Kevin Miller, Tim Huber, Bob Zanneo, and Brian Collins have worked with this team unceasingly over an arduous season. Credit has to be first given to the coaching staff. And, of course, La Salle’s incredible student section has to be complimented for their unswerving support. Though many of the Explorer faithful showed up to the game late, they met Lower Merion’s passionate supporters with a humorous barrage of chants.

La Salle heads into Tuesday’s semifinal matchup against another storied program: Chester High. No matter the result on Tuesday, the 2013-14 La Salle Explorers will long be remembered for their confidence, teamwork, and commitment to a goal. A team that lost 90% of its varsity minutes, including two Division-1 players, is now one of the top four AAAA teams in Pennsylvania. How about that for a comeback?


FEB. 19
CATHOLIC LEAGUE SEMIFINAL
Roman 52, La Sale 45
(At the Palestra)
  Well, how about that for a Wednesday night game at the Palestra? La Salle battled Roman in a dramatic fourth quarter before narrowly falling to the Cahillites. I have seen my fair share of comebacks, but for La Salle to cut a fifteen-point fourth quarter deficit to three is truly remarkable. As the fourth quarter tipped off at the Palestra, Roman held a commanding 39-24 lead over La Salle. By use of a tight 2-3 zone, the Cahillites had stymied La Salle’s offense for most of the night. The Explorers only made a single field goal in the entire third quarter, and struggled to get any outside shots off all night. During this frustrating time, La Salle senior center Jalen Herdsman really worked hard under the basket doing “garbage work” (getting rebounds, boxing out…etc). Meanwhile, spurred by ten points from junior center Manny Taylor, Roman looked well on their way to an easy victory. What ensued during the fourth quarter was a careful reminder that anything is possible in Catholic League basketball.

  Junior center Dave Krmpotich provided the Explorers some momentum with an and-one basket to end the third quarter. Then, senior guard Sean Greenberg went to work. Known for his overtime heroics during the Explorers’ regular season victory over Archbishop Wood, Greenberg again embraced the spotlight in the clutch. He stepped up and nailed back-to-back treys, energizing the large La Salle fan base, and putting a glimmer of fear into the eyes of Roman coach Chris McNesby and his players. As Roman clung to a 46-40 lead, junior point guard Najee Walls stepped up to hit another trey, cutting Roman’s nearly twenty point lead to only three. Unfortunately for the La Salle faithful, three points would be the closest the Explorers could get to Roman. Nearly flawless foul shooting by the Cahillites (9 for 11 from the stripe in the fourth quarter) provided the crux for a 52-45 victory.

  A semifinal appearance at the Palestra caps off an impressive week for the Explorers, who beat rival St. Joe’s Prep in a quarterfinal game on Saturday. After falling on the winning end of a defensive slugfest, Coach Joe Dempsey—surrounded by hordes of the La Salle faithful—led the traditional “L-A-S-A-L-L-E” chant. A playoff victory over St. Joe’s erased any memory of the brutal regular season loss and affirmed what has been a brilliant season for the Explorers.

  While the Explorers’ Catholic League season is done, they now enter PIAA 4A state games. First up is a battle against Public League stalwart Central High School for District 12’s third spot in the state tournament. For those readers confused by how the PIAA allocates qualifying spots (don’t worry, we all are), allow me to explain: District 12 receives three bids to the state tournament. One bid goes to the first-place 4A team in the Catholic League (Roman Catholic), and another bid goes to the first-place 4A team in the Public League (Martin Luther King). Roman will thus play MLK for the 4A City Championship to determine which team has the first and second seeds heading into the tournament. For the third bid, a sudden death game takes place between the second-place 4A team in the Catholic (La Salle) and Public (Central) Leagues.

  Onward the Explorers go! Their season is not yet over, and there is much more basketball to be played. I cannot wait to be there for the ride.


FEB. 7 & 9
CATHOLIC LEAGUE
Recaps of La Salle's Games vs. Ryan and Carroll
  After a weekend frenzy of basketball games (and some late snow), the Philadelphia Catholic League (mostly) has completed its 2013-14 regular season. La Salle finished the season with a Senior Day victory over Archbishop Ryan on Friday night and a hard-fought loss to Archbishop Carroll earlier this afternoon. The Explorers will face St. Joe’s Prep in a rematch this Friday. Even though the Hawks defeated La Salle earlier this year, the quarterfinal playoff game will be at La Salle because the Explorers finished as the 4th seed in the Catholic League—the Hawks were the 5th seed. I’ll recap the Ryan and Carroll games before briefly previewing the playoff game this week. Not only does Friday’s game determine who goes to the Palestra for the Catholic League semifinals, it almost certainly decides whether La Salle or St. Joe’s will play in the crucial third-place district game to qualify for the state playoffs. A lot of exciting things are occurring in the basketball world (even Penn beat Cornell and Columbia this weekend!), so if you will oblige me, let’s take a look:

Friday night was another testament to the La Salle’s outstanding school spirit. For the third straight year, a motley crew of costumed and masked hooligans crowded La Salle’s gymnasium for the annual “Silent Night.” As per the tradition, La Salle’s fans stayed silent until their beloved Explorers scored their tenth point, at which they then roared with excitement and support. Among the more popular costumes were Miley Cyrus, Chip Kelly, a variety of nuns, and a Bubba Watson (yes, the golfer) impersonator. The fans were especially pleased by Bubba Watson’s putting skills during halftime. NOT appearing in costume were some notable La Salle teachers and alumni. Math teacher Mike Ponisciak and chemistry teacher Dorothy Ponisciak were on hand to witness the game, as was Spanish teacher Lastenia Breen and her husband, and history and religion teacher Dan Williams. The Explorers often receive strong support from these teachers, as well as from former coaches Marty Jackson and Bernie Fitzgerald. Present at every game is La Salle alum Bob Moran, a member of the Board of Trustees, and his wife, Mary. The Morans even brought their grandchildren to witness La Salle-Ryan and, apparently, the Little Morans had a run-in with my mom. Bad luck on their part (only kidding).

  Coach Joe Dempsey’s team thrived off of the crowd support and, with a senior-laden starting five, cruised to a 15-9 advantage in the first quarter. The Explorers were not fans of the Seventh Commandment that night, and ended up with 16 team steals. Seniors Mick Barrett and Sean Greenberg led the way in the first quarter with three steals (two for Barrett, one for Greenberg). At the 4:10 mark of the first quarter, senior Dom Cuoci nailed a three-pointer in front of the student section to hand La Salle an 11-6 lead and incite the voluminous student supporters. Cuoci, a perennial fan-favorite, is a Division 1 baseball commit to St. Joe’s University. He formerly played basketball as a freshman (receiving some significant JV time), before solely focusing on baseball in the interim, and returning to the basketball team as a senior. A thunderous dunk by junior Explorer Dave Krmpotich ended the first quarter and provided strong momentum for the Explorers as they romped to victory.

  The Explorers extended their lead to 14 points (31-17) over the Raiders in the second quarter. Ryan closed the gap in the second half, even outscoring the Explorers 14-12 in the fourth quarter. Consistent and balanced scoring from the Explorers (10 players notched points) kept the Raiders at bay. Ryan sophomore Fred Killian played very well for the Raiders in the third quarter. He hit four field goals in the quarter and finished with 12 points, making him Ryan’s leading scorer. Fellow sophomore Austin Chabot nailed two treys and finished with 8 points. Senior Nick Heuser was the other big contributor for Ryan; he hit two three-pointers in the first quarter to keep Ryan in contention and finished with 11 points. Longtime Ryan head coach Bernie Rogers always puts together a stalwart squad, and this year’s group was no different. I have always liked watching Rogers coach (well not so much last year…when Ryan beat La Salle) because he sticks to his preferred system (a specialized flex offense) and works at perfecting it. Archbishop Ryan is, in my dad’s words, a “gritty, city team.”

  After locking up a 58-42 victory over the Raiders, the Explorers moved on to a tough away matchup versus Archbishop Carroll. The Patriots usually close out the Explorers’ schedule and always provide a brutal pre-playoff test. I had a nice chat with Patriot head coach Paul Romanczuk before the game. The former Penn player expressed some optimism in the Quakers after their weekend victories over Cornell and Columbia. If only their victories came over stronger opponents! In fact, I think Romanczuk’s freakishly athletic Patriots could solidly beat the pitiful Cornell Big Red.

  The ensuing game was an exhibition of the athleticism of Carroll’s players against the staying power and grit of La Salle’s guys. Explorer junior Dave Krmpotich hustled his way to a game-leading 20 points. He battled with Carroll junior center Ernest Aflakpui, who was a handful for the Explorers all day and ended with 17 points. La Salle senior Langston Ellison (four points) and sophomore Shane Stark also provided crucial defensive support against Aflakpui. As if “Big Ernest’s” strong interior play was not enough, Carroll also benefited from senior Austin Tilghman’s 16 points and 18 from junior Derrick Jones, including one of his trademark “ESPN-worthy” dunks. Carroll is far from a one-trick pony though. Jones is seriously talented, but Carroll receives significant contributions from Aflakpui and Tilghman as well as from two of Carroll’s other seniors, Joe Mostardi and Armand Sorrentino. Ted Silary also noted earlier this week how balanced Carroll’s scoring has been against some league opponents.

  To be quite honest, I was a big fan of Coach Dempsey’s game plan against Carroll. Now, I know it’s easy to read this column and think to yourself, “Danny goes to La Salle—he’s probably biased.” I really do try to be as fair and impartial as I can (when giving criticism or praise), and I have to say that, though they lost, I was happy with how La Salle’s coaches approached Carroll. The Explorers slowed the tempo of the game, limited Carroll’s possessions, and racked up fouls on Derrick Jones (he notched his fourth foul with a couple minutes remaining in the game). Even though their efforts did not translate into a victory, the Explorers always stayed close to Carroll. After trailing by 10 points at various times, La Salle cut the score to five as late s the 3:52 mark of the fourth quarter. Junior Najee Walls scored 12 points and kept his head against the swarming Carroll defenders. The game was really won on Carroll’s strong foul shooting. They went 20-28 from the line on the day, including 11-17 in the second half. Derrick Jones was a perfect 10 for 10 from the stripe—which definitely did not help La Salle’s comeback efforts.

  Onward the Explorers go to a Friday night matchup against their perennial rivals, the St. Joe’s Prep Hawks. Whether or not my beloved Explorers win, I know for sure that I’ll be reminded, whether from a La Salle victory or not, that there is NOTHING like Friday night basketball in the Philadelphia Catholic League.

 

JAN. 17
CATHOLIC LEAGUE
La Salle 69, Wood 67 (OT)
  If there is anyone out there who doubts the supremacy of the Philadelphia Catholic League in Pennsylvania high school basketball, I only wish they could have been at Archbishop Wood High with 1:10 remaining in overtime. After a basket by Wood senior forward Matt Funk, the home team Vikings held a 59-58 lead and first-year head coach John Mosco had called a timeout at the 1:30 mark. Only the basketball gods know what La Salle head coach Joe Dempsey was thinking during this timeout. His team had held an eight point lead at halftime, lost it in the fourth quarter, and rebounded to force an overtime period. They faced a rollicking home crowd pumped up on adrenaline from Wood senior Pat Smith’s 1000th point and dressed in togas (yes, togas…as in the togas from the movie Animal House). Dempsey’s players emerged from the timeout with stone-cold gazes on their faces. La Salle star manager Gary McCabe whispered to me at this point, “I could never play in a game like this.” Gary definitely undersells his own athletic abilities, but his words were perfect to describe the intensity and pressure-filled drama of the moment. As the Explorers passed the ball around, it fell into the unlikely hands of senior Sean Greenberg. Now, Sean (as I highlighted in my report on the Neumann-Goretti game) has been providing some strong minutes for La Salle off the bench. He gathered himself at the top of the key and unleashed a terrific three-point shot that fell straight in—electrifying the small La Salle crowd out to see their team, and silencing the toga-clad Wood faithful. La Salle now led 61-59, and the Vikings would only get within two again when Matt Funk hit a buzzer-beating trey to give the game its final score: 69-67 in favor of La Salle.

  This La Salle-Wood matchup was not a game for the faint of heart. Before the JV game even ended, a slew of toga-wearing Wood fans entered the gym. They began walking down the sideline opposite the scorer’s table and eventually formed a line behind the basket that La Salle was shooting at. Eventually, the referees asked the fans to congregate anywhere other than court side. La Salle won the JV matchup but the ominous signals of a brutally competitive varsity game were already in place. Additionally, Cornell-bound Wood senior, Pat Smith, entered the game only four points away from 1,000 points on his career. Smith scored his 1,001st point on a three pointer about midway through the second quarter.

  La Salle kept a constant lead in the early going thanks in large part to a dearth of turnovers. The Explorers’ first turnover occurred at the 2:08 mark of the second quarter and they ended the game with less than ten turnovers (shoutout to the La Salle managerial staff for this statistic). Junior Najee Walls also had a career day with 23 total points, which included three treys. Fellow junior Dave Krmpotich battled his way to 13 points and 9 rebounds. A thunderous Krmpotich slam dunk ended the first half and gave La Salle a 27-19 advantage. After Wood outscored the Explorers 18-16 in the third period, La Salle entered the fourth quarter clinging to a six point lead (43-37). Things got hairy at the 4:35 mark of the period when junior Luke Connaghan tied the game at 46 with a jumper. The Vikings and Explorers traded leads for the rest of the period, with definitive moments occurring at the 1:45 mark when a Najee Walls basket put the Explorers up 54-52, and the 1:01 mark when Pat Smith tied it again at 54. In the game’s final moments, a missed basket by La Salle sophomore Chuck Champion forced the overtime period.

  I began this article with a description of Greenberg’s basket in overtime. Without a doubt, his go-ahead trey cemented an Explorer lead and ultimate victory. However, the rest of La Salle’s squad has to be complemented for their outstanding foul shooting in the overtime period. The Explorers went 6-8 on free throws in overtime, including 5-6 on free throws after Greenberg’s trey. Chuck Champion, only a sophomore in a pressure-intense game, flawlessly nailed two free throws to put the Explorers up four with forty seconds left in overtime. A late duo of three-pointers by Matt Funk could not salvage the game for Wood, who went down mightily for their first Catholic League loss.

  A couple more notes on this game: First, Wood senior Joe LoStracco scored 10 points, all of his baskets occurring in the paint. Connaghan and Matt Funk each matched LoStracco’s total of 10 points. Pat Smith’s shooting was fantastic and I would dare to say his leadership on the floor kept La Salle always on their toes, and the Vikings always in the game. It was beautiful to see the Wood student body support Smith after he scored his 1,000th point on a trey with 5:09 left in the second quarter (assist to Tom Funk), and especially nice to see Smith acknowledge his family after reaching the milestone. I will look forward to rooting against Smith for the next four years—it is always nice to root against a worthy opponent.

On the La Salle side, it was truly a team effort. Beside Greenberg, Walls, and Champion’s exploits, the Explorers were helped by stellar defense from junior Sean Witherspoon and strong interior play by senior Jalen Herdsman. I am so proud of my classmates and I cannot echo how happy I am to see them escape Wood with a victory. Kudos to the Archbishop Wood fans for their passion, and to the players and coach John Mosco for a hard-fought game. The Vikings will be a difficult playoff opponent for anyone—that is for sure.

Again, the fans, players, and coaches alike bore witness to the majesty of Friday nights in the Catholic League. A final note for consideration: how ironic it is in a league where “everyone knows everyone” that Sean Greenberg, whose sister attends Wood and whose uncles attended Wood, scored the clinching bucket.

 

JAN. 10
CATHOLIC LEAGUE
Roman 61, La Salle 47
  This week, Roman Catholic’s basketball team beat the Spinelli family twice. After a nail-biting overtime victory over Lansdale Catholic (and assistant coach Dan Spinelli, Sr.) on Tuesday, the Cahillites also downed La Salle on Friday and their lowly manager (yours truly). In an exciting game where La Salle continually got close, but never close enough, the Cahillites emerged with a 61-47 victory. On Tuesday, I highlighted the stellar play of two of La Salle’s seniors, Sean Greenberg and Langston Ellison. Yesterday, the Explorers were very much led by the play of its juniors, most prominently Sean Witherspoon, Dave Krmpotich, and Najee Walls.

  While La Salle did have some strong performances yesterday, the first quarter was the “Shep and Rashann” show, referring to Roman seniors Shep Garner and Rashann London. Garner and London combined for all of Roman’s 13 first quarter points. Roman extended its lead in the second quarter to 18-10, before the Explorers went on a run. Witherspoon capped a 9-0 Explorer run with a steal-to-layup conversion off of a Roman inbounds play, as well as another layup to put La Salle up 19-18. At the 1:44 mark of the second quarter, La Salle had its only lead of the game, and Roman coach Chris McNesby called a timeout. Roman squashed the chances of another Explorer surge and kept La Salle at bay the rest of the game. The greatest thorn in La Salle coach Joe Dempsey’s side was Drexel-commit Rashann London, who ended up with 24 points for Roman.

  Some bright lights for La Salle included its juniors, who played immeasurably well in a competitive environment at a legendary gym. Witherspoon’s theatrics gave the Explorers their only lead in the second quarter, and inspired some strong accolades from the observers on hand. He ended up with 11 points on the day. Najee Walls, who was unfazed by Roman’s fearless full-court press, shot La Salle’s only two treys of the day and ended with eight points. Finally, big man Dave Krmpotich battled his way to a team-high 14 points, with mostly all baskets occurring in the paint. “Krump” scored eight points in the fourth quarter and kept La Salle firmly in the game in the late going. Complementing these fearless juniors was senior Jalen Herdsman, whose quiet leadership forms an important presence in the starting five.

  As always, it was a pleasure to see Roman PA announcer Dan Hoban. He forms Roman’s counterpart to La Salle’s PR man, Chris Carabello. Both men announce home basketball games and coach their school’s respective golf teams. When I pointed out these similarities to Carabello, he gave me another commonality: both men are La Salle University graduates! How funny! Next up for La Salle is a Christian Brothers matchup on Sunday versus West Catholic. Under first-year head coach Jazz Williams, the Burrs have been turning heads in the Catholic League with their impressive early play. I look forward to Sunday’s game!

 

JAN. 7
CATHOLIC LEAGUE
Neumann-Goretti 82, La Salle 58

  Revenge is a dish best served cold…and with many turnovers. On a frigid night in South Philadelphia, the Neumann-Goretti Saints showed again why they are the five-time defending champions of one of the best basketball leagues in Pennsylvania (perhaps in the country): the Philadelphia Catholic League. Ted Silary already touched on some major aspects of the game in his report, but there are just a few points I would like to make. First, I would like to single out senior Explorer Sean Greenberg for his stellar play in this game. Sean came off the bench to score ten points, but that quantitative value does not properly assess the impact he had for La Salle’s morale. I have known Sean for many years now, and he has always had toughness to him, but his fearlessness against some of the best athletes in the city was much needed for the Explorers. He was unfazed by Neumann’s toughness and the taunts of its fan base. Sean represented La Salle extremely well and I was so happy to see him perform tremendously. Another player deserving of recognition is fellow senior Langston Ellison. During his first game back from a knee injury, Langston gave crucial minutes to La Salle, even scoring his first points of the season. After fouling out, Langston received a much-deserved standing ovation from the La Salle bench. He will be a positive force on this team for the remainder of the season.

  Ultimately, Neumann-Goretti, through the might of seniors Jamal Custis and Ja'Quan Newton, overpowered the Explorers. Meanwhile, La Salle held its own and stuck to Coach Dempsey’s game plan, thus earning the respect of all the spectators. Only scoring nine points in the second quarter and a wealth of turnovers were ultimately the Explorers’ downfall. Without a doubt, this game shows that, even in a wide-open Catholic League, Neumann-Goretti is not leaving its pedestal without a fight. Perhaps the January 29th battle between Neumann and Archbishop Carroll will be an important test of the Saints’ staying power. The Explorers will return to Philadelphia this Friday for a matchup against another legendary Catholic League power, Roman Catholic. I will be overjoyed to see my good friends at Roman, including PA announcer Dan Hoban and head coach Chris McNesby. Coach McNesby is a Spinelli family favorite due to his kindness to Big Dan (Lansdale Catholic’s JV head coach) and his overall classiness as a head coach. And, of course, Dan Hoban personifies the extent of school spirit. He is a true Cahillite!

 

JAN. 4
CATHOLIC LEAGUE
La Salle 58, Judge 41
  La Salle began the 2014 Catholic League basketball season in style with a convincing 58-41 victory over Father Judge. Highlights for La Salle included a ten point third quarter for junior Najee Walls (en route to a total of 12 points), and a 10-point, 10-rebound performance on the day by senior Jalen Herdsman. After the downpour of snow on Friday, this Catholic League opener was postponed to an unusual start time of 2 pm on Saturday. The effect of both teams going presumably without practice on Friday was seen in a very flat first quarter, as La Salle and Judge only combined for a measly 16 points. Sophomore Explorer Chuck Champion led the way with 7 points, including a field goal off of an offensive rebound, while Herdsman knocked down two baskets for 4 points. Judge’s first quarter points came solely from sophomore Quincy Reed’s five points. Some controversy arose near the end of the quarter as Judge junior Pat Mulville fouled Champion on his way to the basket. Explorer coach Joe Dempsey wanted an intentional foul called, but the referee ultimately did not agree. Champion nailed both free throws to give La Salle an 11-5 lead at the end of the quarter. Judge’s offense fell flat in the second quarter, and freshman Marc Rodriguez only scored the Crusaders’ first points of the period with under three minutes remaining. Judge finally made it to double-digits after a buzzer beating basket by junior Will Brazukas to end the half. La Salle led 29-11 going into halftime. Thanks to five third-quarter field goals by sophomore Justin Fleming, Judge did embark on a 16-point third period. However, an 18-point outburst by the Explorers mitigated any comeback attempt the Crusaders had in mind. Judge had by this point switched to a 1-3-1 defense, and though the new scheme helped Judge get some baskets in transition, La Salle was able to exploit it for some well-choreographed points. One example occurred near the end of the third quarter as senior Sean Greenberg scored on a layup from an assist by junior Dan Corr. The fourth quarter included treys from four separate Judge players (Jon O’Connor, Mulville, Reed, and senior Shane Flanagan), as well as cameo performances by La Salle senior fan-favorites, Penn-bound Mick Barrett and St. Joe’s bound baseball recruit Dom Cuoci. Next up for the Explorers is an away game on Tuesday against Neumann-Goretti. Without a doubt, Neumann will be ready for revenge against the team that broke its Catholic League-winning streak last season. Then again, maybe lightning will strike twice. Either way, I will be on hand in South Philly to document the Explorers’ second league game of the 2014 campaign.


DEC. 28
SHOWCASE EVENT AT ST. AUGUSTINE PREP (N.J.)
La Salle 45, Wildwood Catholic (N.J.) 37
  Admittedly, it has been far too long since I have submitted an article to this website. With Catholic League play almost upon us, and the Christmas holiday recently past, I found the perfect moment to get back in the swing of writing articles. And, the basketball gods gave me a great one to write about in this tilt between La Salle and Wildwood Catholic. The Explorers entered yesterday's game with a 6-1 record, including victories over 4A stalwarts like Frankford and Abington. After Friday night's win over Camden Catholic, a top 10 ranked team in New Jersey, La Salle sized up another top 10 opponent: Wildwood Catholic. The casual sports observer would not think much of the athletics programs at shore-town high schools. With a sparse year-round population, it only seems logical that a shore town such as Wildwood would not be able to field a very competitive team. How wrong this misguided perception is! Wildwood Catholic sports an extremely talented and passionate starting five, which run a surprisingly effective 2-3 zone. Wildwood Catholic has the pieces in place to run such a defense effectively, including an active defender to cover the perimeter (senior forward Eddie McWade), and a strong inside presence (senior center Clinton Freeman--every bit the 6'5" and 310lbs that he has listed in the tournament program). The game featured a revival of one of basketball's oldest arguments: the benefits of an "inside" versus an "outside" game. Wildwood had a clear inside presence with Freeman, as well as through McWade's constant dribble-drives, while La Salle worked the perimeter well, scoring 6 three-pointers in total (with five alone coming from sophomore Chuck Champion). Champion was the game's leading scorer with 19 points. La Salle's eventual victory came in its ability to play the "outside" game well while effectively mitigating Freeman and McWade through the stellar play of Explorer big men, senior Jalen Herdsman and junior Dave Krmpotich. Herdsman ended up with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Krmpotich racked up 9 points. This game, played in the heart of South Jersey at St. Augustine Prep, hosted a sizable crowd that passionately supported both teams. Wildwood Catholic sported the strong 2-3 zone from the outset, reminding me a bit of Syracuse, who was beating Villanova as this high school game was going on, but La Salle ably responded. Wildwood's athleticism made it tough for La Salle to simply change the tempo of the game at will. Instead, the Explorers used their set-up offense effectively to create easy baskets. Nowhere was this clearer than in this game's first quarter during a brilliant in-bounds play. Junior Dan Corr came off the bench and, upon a signal from head coach Joe Dempsey, went to in-bound the ball. Corr threw the ball in, then retreated to the corner, received the ball back, and sank in a beautiful corner three. Dempsey nodded in approval and said to his bench, "See guys? This isn't rocket science," revealing that this play has been one rehearsed many times before. I have always been a fan of Dempsey and his assistants' ability to draw up plays, and today reminded me again of the extraordinary benefit of (even in the run-and-gun Catholic League) simply setting up plays. Corr's trey, as well as three baskets by Herdsman and an additional field goal by Krmpotich, gave La Salle the edge at the end of the first quarter: 11-9. During the second quarter, La Salle's defense began to get the upper hand over Freeman; after scoring six points in the first quarter, Freeman was held to only two in the second quarter. The Explorers' strong defensive play also forced a 10-second violation on Wildwood Catholic, who were unable to get the ball over half court in the allotted time. Two treys by Champion gave La Salle a 17-13 lead with 5:18 remaining in the second quarter, but an offensive foul call on Explorer junior Sean Witherspoon riled up the Wildwood bench, who started a small run. Capping an 8-4 run, Freeman tied the game 21-21 with less than a minute remaining in the quarter. La Salle was unable to execute an inbounds play at the quarter's end, leaving the score tied going into intermission.
The intermission of this game revealed a curious fact about St. Augustine Prep's building--it allows for no cell service…anywhere. According to a St. Augustine Prep volunteer working the admissions table, this lack of cell service is by design. Stepping outside of the building immediately reinvigorates your phone with four bars, but one step inside and you're in a dead zone. Surely, this knowledge would have been better served if told to Laina Spinelli, who probably assumed her son was dead until I went outside to text her at halftime. The second half was brutally intense, but incredibly fascinating. To point, during a press break attempt by Wildwood Catholic, Herdsman was hit in the face during a mild scuffle. He went down to the floor in agony, before finally standing up during a game break. An irate Wildwood Catholic fan yelled, "That's what happens when you press the whole game!" Surely, Herdsman's mild injury was due to no malicious action by the Wildwood players, but the fan's comment was surprisingly apathetic, especially considering these two teams could hardly be called rivals. Another set of treys by Chuck Champion gave La Salle a 29-26 edge after a flurry of lead-changes. A fifth Champion trey (also his third of the quarter) pushed La Salle to a 32-30 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Perhaps the game's most interesting moment occurred around the 5:38 mark of the fourth quarter. With his team clinging to a two-point lead, Witherspoon drove into the paint, only to collide with Wildwood Catholic senior Malcolm Darby. The referee called for a blocking foul on Darby. In response, Wildwood Catholic's longtime coach David DeWeese said, "That's horrible. Call the foul (meaning an offensive foul on Witherspoon)." Incredibly, the referee gave DeWeese a technical foul. Perhaps my reporting is biased by my experience with Catholic League ball, but I have never seen a technical foul given for words as tame as DeWeese's. Anyway, La Salle used this opportunity to its benefit and converted 2 of the 4 free throws awarded to extend its lead to four points. The Explorers never trailed again in this game and coasted to a 45-37 victory. It's great to be back for my final season covering high school basketball for TedSilary.com. I am beyond excited for another season of basketball in the Philadelphia Catholic League. Thanks again to Ted Silary for giving me this incredible opportunity to write about my high school and its sports teams.