by Jody Kessler

La Salle controlled their own destiny.  With a win in Friday night’s basketball game against Archbishop Wood, in the quarterfinal of the Philadelphia Catholic bracket, they would qualify for the state tournament.  They would have also qualified with a St. Joseph Prep loss, but they looked to do it on their own on their home court.

In front of a packed gym super sophomore Amar Stukes and Rider-bound senior Eddie Mitchell led the Explorers past the Vikings easily.  Stukes had 14 and Mitchell 20, in a 55-34 win.  Steve Collins controlled the rebounding with eight boards.  La Salle moves on to the Palestra Wednesday night for the PCL semifinals against Archbishop Carroll, and more importantly qualifies for the state tournament.  They are now an amazing 19-3 on the year, having won seven straight and 12 of 13.

La Salle started strong and never looked back.  Stukes scored the game’s first bucket.  Although they would miss a few layups that really would have given them a big lead, they outscored Wood 11-4 in the opening quarter.  Between the end of the first quarter and the start of the second they went on a 15-0 run, highlighted by a Mike Poncia three and back to back Mitchell hoops.  Mitchell and Stukes are very aggressive going to the hoop , putting pressure on the defense.  Wood scored a couple hoops to stem the tide, including a Shane Neher three.  Stukes then scored on an amazing dipsy doo move to the hoop, and got fouled.  He missed the free throw.  With time running down before the end of the half La Salle drew up a play for Collins to shoot a three, their customary play before the end of quarters.  Collins found himself covered, so he passed the ball to Kevin Piotrowicz.  Piotrowicz got off the shot but missed.  Still La Salle increased their lead to 23-10.

In the second half Mitchell got really aggressive.  He opened with a three.  Then after a Wood hoop he got to the line where he made both free throws.  After another Wood hoop he got the line again, and made one of two.  As the quarter closed Wood star Joe Getz tried to get going, hitting a three.  He had seven points in the period and 12 overall to keep Wood within 13 after three.  La Salle was strong in the fourth quarter.  Stukes took control.  The smooth guard opened with two points, then had a steal and another deuce.  After another steal Mitchell got the ball on the break and went in for a reverse dunk, putting the exclamation point on the win and sending the crowd into frenzy.  It was 49-38 at that point, and La Salle is on their way back to the Palestra and on to the state tournament.

The 6’9” Collins said, “played well, we went to their place they gave us a good game last time.  So we knew we had to come back play good defense execute well on offense.  They’re a good rebounding team so coach put that in our heads, so I tried to rebound well.”  About moving on to the Palestra he said, “We’re all excited to go back there.”

“Big win,” said Mitchell.  “We didn’t play too well at their gym.  Back to back years to the palestra is a great feeling.”

Wood coach Jack Walsh said, “You don’t score it’s a struggle.  I think our defense was good in the first half only giving up 23 points but unfortunately only scoring ten.  We needed to win the last two quarters, we just could not finish.”  On the year the teams finished 14-10.  “We had guys that were injured, couple freshmen and sophomore, they stepped up when they needed to, considering all that I think we had a very good year.”