Senior guard Allen Powell rises for a coast-to-coast layup after he swiped a Hawk ball-handler on the other end. Powell leads the Explorers on the season with 360 points, good for over 16 per game. (Photo by Jonathan Vander Lugt)

by Jonathan Vander Lugt

La Salle’s hopes at a regular-season Philadelphia Catholic League title were dealt a heavy blow with its Jan. 28 loss to Archbishop Carroll. Then, they were all but eliminated when they fell three nights later to Roman Catholic.

The losses were heartbreakers – 57-55 on the road at Carroll, and 73-67 at home against the Cahillites. In that situation, other teams might have folded. The 2018-19 Explorers, however, are not one of them.

After a long layoff, they beat a tough Archbishop Wood team Friday night before dueling rival St. Joseph’s Prep on the road Sunday for a decisive 54-46 win.

“It was huge,” said senior forward Zach Crisler of closing the season with a pair of wins. “Those two [losses] were back-to-back and it felt like a whole month went by getting past them.”

“But, like I say all the time, we’re a big family,” he went on. “We didn’t pull away from each other and worked together every day.”

The Explorers took control over the Hawks from the get-go on a strong first-half shooting performance. La Salle knocked in seven triples in the first two frames – three from Titus Beard, two from Allen Powell and one each from Crisler (pronounced ‘kriss-ler’) and Jake Timby.

It helped build out a 27-19 lead at the half that eventually stretched to 40-30 by the end of the third quarter.

The Prep made it tense, briefly, with an and-one from Chris Arizin that followed a lay-in from big man Chris O’Connell. It was enough to pull within five against an Explorer team that had gone stagnant, but a few breakaway layups by the Explorers stretched the lead right back to 11.

From there, La Salle treaded water until the game’s conclusion.

“We just came out and did a pretty good job of executing – that’s what got us a win in the end,” Crisler said. “Coach gave us a great game plan.”

In the second half, La Salle relied much less on the three-ball and much more on Crisler’s play inside. He scored 11 in the half and wound up leading the gym with 16 points.

“I’ve really been focusing on letting the game come to me,” he said. “In the first quarter I tried to make post move down low, and I got all caught up trying to force one to the rim.”

On the play he’s referencing, Crisler tried to work O’Connell for a first-quarter basket, which amounted to the real-life equivalent of just mashing the left-trigger (for post moves) and X-button (for a shot) in NBA games on Xbox. O’Connell – who is close to seven feet tall and a polished defender – wasn’t having it. He stood his ground and easily blocked Crisler’s layup attempt.

La Salle’s Zach Crisler works around Prep defenders Sunday. Crisler, a senior, led the Explorers with 16 in their 54-46 win. (Photo by Jonathan Vander Lugt)

So, the next time Crisler caught the ball down low, he took a breather and made the type of adjustment that, as a senior, he has learned how to make.

“I slowed myself down next time I got a post touch,” he went on. “I took two slow dribbles, paced myself, turned around and made a nice move.”

“Coach always talks about being mentally prepared,” he said. “If you do that, the physical part will come along with it.”

In fact, these two games against Wood and the Prep have been his best all year. His 16 against SJP would have been a season-high if not for the 19 he scored Friday night. Elsewhere, Powell also registered in double-figures with 14 points, while fellow seniors Beard and Kiszka chipped in with nine and eight, respectively.

La Salle (20-2, 12-2) will head into the PCL tournament as the number-two seed. As fate would have it, should seventh-seeded Archbishop Carroll win its play-in game Tuesday, the Explorers will be in for a rematch against the team that snapped its 17-game winning streak to start the season.

Roman has the number one seed, and if La Salle is fortunate enough to make the championship game, will be the most likely team to advance from the other side of the bracket.

In short, as long as the Explorers take care of business over the next week and a half, they have a stellar chance getting some late-season revenge.

“Those [losses to Carroll and Roman] really hurt us because we felt like we could have won them,” Crisler said. “They took our momentum.”

“If we can steal those wins back,” he said, “It will push us into the state playoffs and the end of our season on a high note.”

La Salle 54, St. Joe’s Prep 46

LS: 11 16 13 14: 54
SJP: 7 12 11 16: 46

La Salle:
Zach Crisler 7 1-2 16; Allen Powell 5 1-1 14; Titus Beard 3 0-1 9; Konrad Kiszka 4 0-0 8; Jake Timby 3 0-0 7.

St. Joe’s Prep:
Chris Arizin 5 2-2 13; Jacob O’Connell 6 1-1 13; Trevor Wall 3 2-2 11; Gabe Arizin 2 0-0 6; Brian Geatens 0 3-3 3.

Around the Area:

Penn Charter (11-14, 1-9) closed its regular season on a tough note with a 61-50 loss to Springside Chestnut Hill Tuesday and a 70-56 loss to Malvern Prep Friday. It was clear from the start that the Quakers headed for a rebuild in head coach John Owens’ first season, and there were indeed some bright spots to build upon. Junior Ryan Holmes played better and better as the season went on – he notched his 1,000th point in late January – and averaged 23.5 points over his last six games. Elsewhere, eighth grader Mark Butler gained valuable experience manning the point for PC, and figures to be a difference-maker as the years go on. To finish the year, the 14th-seeded Quakers are set to play at third-seed Shipley (Bryn Mawr) Friday in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) tournament on Friday.

Germantown Friends found itself in a similar boat this season. The rebuilding Tigers’ (10-15, 1-8) season came to an end against Friends Select School (Center City) Wednesday in the first round of the Friends Schools League Quaker Cup. Much like its neighbor on the other side of School House Lane, GFS relied on a young guard (freshman Matt Johnson) throughout the season, and like Butler, Johnson was generally up to task. Though he missed a few contests here and there, he averaged a shade over 13 points per game, foreshadowing what coach Shawn Werdt hopes to be a stellar career in blue and orange.

The stories of Springside Chestnut Hill and Germantown Academy aren’t quite finished, as the pair is set to duel at GA Tuesday in a make-up game from Jan. 29. SCH (14-12, 4-5) is looking to crest the .500 mark in league play for the first time since 2011-2012 (seven years!), while the Patriots (12-13, 2-7) hope to end a difficult season on a high note. Not much has gone to plan for GA, on the court or off, as a health scare has forced an unfitting end to Jim Fenerty’s 30-year reign as head coach and the team has floundered in what was supposed to be an improved year. Though the Pats have struggled with inconsistency all season, fans should – in their last home conference game in Fenerty’s final season – expect them to leave everything on the court Tuesday.

Information from was used in this report.