Warren De La Salle forward Justin Winowiecki takes a 3-pointer in a March 20 state quarterfinal win over the University of Detroit Jesuit. The Pilots will play in a state semifinal for the first time since 2007.

Warren De La Salle forward Justin Winowiecki takes a 3-pointer in a March 20 state quarterfinal win over the University of Detroit Jesuit. The Pilots will play in a state semifinal for the first time since 2007.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes


De La Salle basketball upends UD Jesuit, goes to state semis

Pilots end long series losing streak

By: Jason Carmel Davis | Online Only | Published March 20, 2018

 University of Detroit Jesuit forward Jalen Thomas flushes home a dunk in a March 20 state quarterfinal game against Warren De La Salle. Thomas led the Cubs with 18 points in the game.

University of Detroit Jesuit forward Jalen Thomas flushes home a dunk in a March 20 state quarterfinal game against Warren De La Salle. Thomas led the Cubs with 18 points in the game.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

DETROIT — The Warren De La Salle basketball team dropped three games to the University of Detroit Jesuit earlier this season and had fourth quarter leads in two of the matchups before running out of gas, according to coach Greg Esler.

Conditioning was not the problem in the fourth meeting, as the Pilots knocked off the Cubs 63-58 March 20 in a Class A state quarterfinal to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 2007.

De La Salle (19-7) advances to take on the winner of a Clarkston High/Flint Carman Ainsworth matchup in a state semifinal set for noon March 23 at Michigan State University. The Class A state championship game tips at 12:15 p.m. March 24. The other half of the bracket features Belleville High and Novi High, along with East Lansing High and Holland West Ottawa.

“Watching film before the game, we knew we had to buy some minutes out of some of our bench guys,” said Esler, now two wins away from his second state championship. “Our bench played well for us. We put those guys in the game and we didn’t lose the lead.”

The matchup was the fourth for the Catholic High School League Central Division foes. The Cubs (22-4) won two regular season meetings and the CHSL championship game by an average of six points per game.

The Pilots, whose lone state title game appearance came in a 60-57 loss to Okemos High in the 1982 Class B title game, led the whole way. De La Salle jumped out to an early 7-2 lead and never looked back. 

“We knew that if we came out and played our game we could win,” said De La Salle senior forward Luke Pfromm, who led all scorers with 21 points. “It was important for us to start fast because when we start slow we can get out of our game. I thought we played really well tonight.”

The Pilots were able to halt every Cubs run. UD Jesuit scored first in each of the last three quarters, but De La Salle answered with runs of its own each time to preserve its lead. The Cubs early in the second got to within one at 18-17 before the Pilots closed the quarter on a 13-6 run to take a 31-23 lead into the locker room.

UD Jesuit junior wing Daniel Friday nailed a 3-pointer late in the third to cut the De La Salle lead to 44-41. Pilots senior guard Easton Sikorski, who scored 15 points, hit one of his three 3-pointers with 1:50 left in the third to give his team some breathing room and a 47-41 lead heading into the fourth.

The Cubs looked to make a charge in the fourth and cut the Pilots lead to 52-50 with 5:47 left on a layup by Friday, who missed a subsequent free throw. De La Salle went on a 7-2 run over the next 4:46 to build a 59-52 lead with 1:01 left. Free throws by Pfromm and senior forward Kole Gjojaj late sealed the win. Cubs junior forward Jalen Thomas did all he could to keep his team in it, scoring 18 points — 0 in the fourth quarter.

Prior to the state quarterfinal win, the Cubs had taken 15 straight from the Pilots.

“No better time and now to end that streak,” Pilots senior guard Justin Fischer said. “Coach told us coming into the game that we’d have a good chance to win. We just stuck to the game plan and got a pretty big win.”

The Pilots mixed up their defenses throughout the game, giving a variety of man and zone looks. De La Salle’s length bothered the Cubs, with the major players all being at least 6-foot tall. Each of the Pilots players can handle the ball, and play in the post and perimeter. Long arms make passing around and into a zone defense difficult.

“We try to have guys who can do a variety of things and that helps us a lot,” Esler said.

The Pilots played a clean game, with less than 10 turnovers. De La Salle  committed just three fouls in the second half. 

“We weren’t just tired late in the earlier games, we were really sloppy with the ball too,” Esler said. “We played really smart basketball tonight. This is a good team, and UD isn’t an easy team to beat. (Cubs coach Pat Donnelly) does a great job and always has his kids ready to play.”

Also contributing for the Pilots was senior forward Justin Winowiecki, who netted 17 points. 

To get to the quarters, De La Salle knocked off Macomb Dakota 56-51 in a March 14 regional final. UD Jesuit bested Detroit Martin Luther King 48-36 March 14 to advance.

Esler won a Class B state title with St. Clair Shores Lake Shore in 1994. He said he won’t change any of the routine leading up to the March 23 state semifinal.

“We’re going to watch film, have our walkthroughs and practices, and get ready like we usually do,” Esler said. “Our goal was to get to (MSU), and we’ve done that. Now we’ll try to keep going.”