by Jody Kessler

Eddie Mitchell saved the best and worst for last Saturday in the City Championship for basketball against Frankford.

La Salle’s Mitchell tied the game with only seconds remaining on the clock with a heroic shot over three defenders. He then fouled Keith Washington going for a steal, and Washington calmly stepped up and made both free throws for a 48-46 win. The loss denies La Salle back-to-back titles. They’re still going to the state tournament, but the loss hurt.

La Salle started strong, leading 10-5 after one quarter. Amar Stukes converted on a three-point play to start the second quarter, but Frankford went on a 12-4 run to close the quarter, leading 21-19 at the half. Mike Poncia missed a three and Brennan Woods and Steve Collins missed putbacks to tie the score at the buzzer. La Salle was dead cold from beyond the arc, missing all of their three-point attempts in the first half.

Frankford built its lead to eight in the third quarter, but La Salle would fight back. Stukes went to the line and hit two freethrows as part of his 11-point effort, Poncia finally broke the three streak and Kevin Piotrowicz hit a key three down the stretch.

After Frankford’s Donald Robinson hit two free throws, Joe Brown converted a basket off the steal for La Salle. Then they had another steal, and Stukes had an open three, but missed. Robinson was fouled on the next possession but missed on the front end of a one-and-one. Stukes was then blocked but fouled, and down one point he had a chance to give La Salle the lead. He missed both, the second going in and out. Robinson was fouled again, putting La Salle in the double penalty, resulting in two free throw attempts. He hit the second for a two point Pioneer lead with 23 seconds left.

La Salle coach Joe Dempsey called a timeout to set up a play. Mitchell got the ball at the top of the key. He waited for ten seconds and then drove down the lane, putting the shot up against the outstretched arms of the defenders, and it went in. Frankford got the ball to Washington and he raced up court to try to get a shot off when Mitchell took the ill-fated foul. With 1.7 seconds left after the two freebies, La Salle could only muster a heave by Collins that fell way short.

Washington finished with 15 points and was the game MVP.

“Great players make great shots,” said Washington, “so I had to make them. Didn’t want to play an overtime with these cramps. I thought we played well as a team. We played a great team in La Salle.”

“Two losses in a row is tough to take,” Mitchell said afterward. (they lost to Archbishop Carroll in the semifinals of the Catholic League playoffs). We have to stay together and go into the state tournament strong. It’s been a long season and we need to stay healthy and stay together. We never doubted ourselves when they had a big lead in the game. Basketball is a game of runs and we got ours too late.”

Brown, who finished with 10 points said, “I think its intensity. I think it starts in practice. These practices are going to result in how we play Saturday. Couple of plays we had a lack of communication, it’s seemed like Frankford wanted it more a times. We weren’t consistent at all.”

Coach Joe Dempsey pointed to Frankford. “Frankford was a good team; they were hungry, they came on strong, the coach does a good job. The kids execute well, at the end of the day they wanted the game more and they played harder. I compare the Catholic League to the big East, we only lost two games. It takes a lot of mental energy.” Moving forward he said, “It’s going to be up to the kids. Just have to pick up the pieces do what you do and stay focused.”

La Salle plays Reading in the first round of the AAAA playoffs Saturday, at Archbishop Carroll at 4:30.