It wasn't the type of scene they envisioned, but when a group of bleary-eyed La Salle seniors emerged from a melancholy locker room Saturday, they were greeted by an ovation from family and friends.
The Explorers had fallen, 60-59, in the Class AAAA quarterfinals to J.P. McCaskey after last-second excitement at a near-capacity Spring-Ford.
That didn't stop Najee Walls, David Krmpotich, and Daniel Corr from hearing respectful applause as they left the locker room.
Minutes earlier, head coach Joe Dempsey had already conveyed the same message.
"I just left a locker room with a teary-eyed bunch of kids that I'm extremely proud of," he said. "They've given the school a lot to be proud of, and the senior class has been really special."
Walls, Krmpotich, and Corr were the main offensive contributors for the Explorers, who were felled by the physical Red Tornado of District 3.
"Yes, it was very physical, and that's been a problem for us," Dempsey said. "We have gotten pushed around a little bit. We're not exactly the thickest team around, but I think we responded."
Walls scored a team-high 17 points and added four assists. Krmpotich, a Colgate recruit, bundled 14 points with nine rebounds and seven blocked shots. Corr added his 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc.
La Salle, last year's Class AAAA runner-up, trailed 19-9 in the first quarter, but eventually seized a 32-31 advantage by halftime.
However, the combination of Kobe Gantz and Tyler Owens foiled the Explorers. Gantz, a junior, finished with 26 points. He scored his 1,000th career point on a third-quarter three-pointer.
Owens added 18 points and eight rebounds, including the eventual game-winning put-back in the final seconds.
After Walls gave La Salle a 57-56 edge with a free throw with 48.9 seconds remaining, Gantz took back the lead with a scoop-and-score with about 18 ticks left.
Krmpotich scored on the ensuing possession, but Gantz pushed the ball right back. He missed a short jumper that was grabbed underneath by Owens and finished in one motion.
"I think we just didn't make a play there," Dempsey said. "That game could have gone either way. They made one more play than us, that's what I told the guys."
On the final play, La'Detrius Sibley poked the ball away from Krmpotich near midcourt.
La Salle 12 20 11 16 - 59
JP McCaskey 19 12 16 13 - 60
LS: Shawn Witherspoon 7, Najee Walls 17, David Krmpotich 14, Shane Stark 7, Dan Corr 12, Ryan McTamney 2.
MC: Kobe Gantz 26, Randolph Speller 3, La'Detrius Sibley 6, Tyler Owens 18, Kyaire Bynum 4, Elija Brown 3.