Detroit — Warren De La Salle finally closed the deal, defeating U-D Jesuit 63-58 in a Class A state quarterfinal Tuesday evening at Calihan Hall to end a 12-game losing streak in the rivalry.
It’s been more than four years since De La Salle earned a win in the rivalry and victory never tasted so sweet.
De La Salle — which won a state championship in football this past fall — will advance to Breslin Center to play for a state championship in basketball. It will play a semifinal game Friday afternoon, its first since 2007 when it lost to Detroit Redford.
It was 6-foot-5 senior Luke Pfromm who led the way for De La Salle, scoring nine of his game-high 21 points in the opening quarter to help his team take an early 16-8 lead to set the tempo.
De La Salle (19-7), which had lost three times to U-D Jesuit (22-4) this season and had surrendered fourth-quarter leads the last two times they played, including the Catholic League title game Feb. 25 at Calihan, never trailed in this one.
“We knew coming in that they were heavily favored, but we knew if we’d come out and play our game and match or even top their intensity we’d have a great chance to be there at the end of the game and that’s where we were,” said Pfromm, who was the quarterback of De La Salle’s Div. 2 championship football team, and will now try to lead the Pilots to their first basketball state title.
“Our starting five is all seniors and I knew I had to lead by example, get out there and get us going. I really think the key was our intensity. They made runs and we didn’t get down on ourselves. We stayed up and we stayed positive and continued to execute the game plan that Coach Esler gave us.”
So, what was that game plan?
“They penetrate really well, get in the lane and finish well at the basket,” Pfromm said. “They have good size so we wanted to keep them out of the paint and make them shoot pull-ups and 3s. We know Winston’s a good shooter, but we wanted to keep the ball out of his hands.
“Offensively, we wanted to get to the basket and get to the line. We really didn’t get to the line, but we hit our shots so it worked out.”
Yes, it did work out for De La Salle which made seven 3-pointers and scored multiple transition baskets. Jordan Winowiecki, a 6-foot-5 senior, had 17 points, making three 3-pointers and scoring six during the fourth quarter. Senior guard Easton Sikorski scored 15, making three 3-pointers.
Jalen Thomas, a 6-10 junior, had 18 points for six-time Catholic League champion U-D Jesuit, but didn’t score in the fourth quarter. Junior forward Daniel Friday scored 13. Senior guard Elijah Collins and junior guard Jordan Montgomery each scored 10.
De La Salle led 18-13 after one, 31-23 at the half and 47-41 after three. U-D Jesuit pulled within two on multiple occasions in the fourth, but De La Salle would answer each time with Justin Fischer scoring on a driving layup for a 52-48 cushion and then Sikorski making a pair of free throws, followed by Winowiecki’s three-point play off a putback to open a 57-50 lead with 3:44 left.
There would be no magical comeback from U-D Jesuit this time, making just 2-of-8 3-pointers during the fourth quarter.
In the Catholic League title game, U-D Jesuit battled back from a 46-40 fourth-quarter deficit to earn a 64-55 win with Zachary Winston scoring 10 of his 17 points during the final eight minutes, knocking down long-range shots.
Winston, the younger brother of Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston who led U-D Jesuit to the 2016 state championship, was scoreless, missing all four of his 3-point shots in the quarterfinal.
Winowiecki credited Esler for subbing in the opening quarter to allow De La Salle’s starters to have fresh legs down the stretch, something they didn’t have in the earlier games.
“We had leads going into the fourth quarter in our other games against them and then our legs gave out on us so this time around we got our subs in there, got more minutes for them so we could rest early on and in the fourth quarter we’d be able to push through,” Winowiecki said.
Esler agreed with Winowiecki.
“After the (regional title game) win against Dakota I watched the (previous) U-D game before I went to bed and I told the team the next day that I got to buy some minutes from our subs because if you track our games we’re leading in the fourth and then run out of gas,” Esler said. “We had to buy minutes and (Blaine) Flanigan and (Mike) Sherman and (Keith) Larson did a good job. They didn’t turn the ball over and the lead didn’t shrink and that was huge for us.
“I also felt they (U-D Jesuit) didn’t get a lot of transition baskets against us and we won the tempo and I thought that was huge for us tonight. They kept sending three or four guys to the glass and we said we have to start putting pressure on them at the other end so we got some run outs and Winowiecki shoots the ball really good in transition 3s and Sikorski was awesome. I felt the whole five were great, but we didn’t turn the ball over tonight and that was the big.”