SAN JOSE — With the end of its season in sight, De La Salle punched back.
The Spartans found a way to erase a five-point deficit in the closing minutes Wednesday night and survive a defensive battle against Archbishop Mitty, prevailing on the road 46-44.
Arshawn Salkhi’s 3-pointer from the top of the arc gave the visitors a two-point with 16.7 seconds left.
After both teams made 1 of 2 free throws to keep the margin at two, Mitty inbounded the ball to senior Derek Sangster with 3.4 seconds on the clock.
Defended by sophomore star Alec Blair, the Princeton-bound standout caught the pass in the middle of the court and dribbled with his left hand toward the basket.
Blair, who is 6-foot-5, tried to knock the ball away. But the 6-8 Sangster got the shot off.
The ball hit the backboard but didn’t go in as the clock struck zero, ending Mitty’s season while sending De La Salle to the CIF NorCal Open Division semifinals Saturday at top-seeded Modesto Christian.
The Spartans (23-8) celebrated as all teams do at this time of the season. They ran around the court, shouting and hugging and smiling.
“I wanted to block it, I am not going to lie to you,” Blair said of the final play. “I was just trying to keep him in front. He got by me a little bit and I was just thinking, ‘Don’t foul him.’ I was a little close. The refs didn’t call it. That kind of went our way. He missed it, and we won the game.”
Sangster said the play worked except for the outcome.
“That was the shot we wanted, to get downhill,” he said. “Can’t really ask for anything more.”
Mitty (22-6) led 43-38 with time becoming a factor for De La Salle.
Leo Ricketts’ steal started the comeback as Blair cashed in on the turnover with a basket that made it 43-40 with 1:39 to play.
After a Mitty timeout with 1:19 left, another turnover by the home team led to second Blair basket that cut the home team’s lead to 43-42.
A traveling call gave the ball back to De La Salle, which called a timeout with 24 seconds remaining.
The inbounds pass from midcourt went to Blair, who passed the ball to Billy Haggerty, who then swung it to Salkhi at the top of the arc.
Salkhi freelanced from there.
“I was supposed to give it to Alec,” he said. “But I was wide open, and I know how many reps I put up. I am letting that fly every time.”
The ball went through the hoop to put the Spartans on top 45-43.
“We were good,” Salkhi said. “Some of our players had to step up, including me. But we were able to get it done.”
Both teams were coming off crushing defeats last week. De La Salle lost to Dougherty Valley 65-51 in the North Coast Section Open Division final. Mitty was stunned by Serra 50-49 on the final day of pool play in the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs, a defeat that prevented the San Jose power from advancing to the championship game.
Mitty frustrated De La Salle in the first half, beating the Spartans at their own game. The Monarchs built a 24-17 lead at the break by playing lockdown defense and having players such as Kai Grouleau score on backdoor cuts. Grouleau had three of them in the first half and another in the third quarter.
Eight players scored for Mitty, but only Sangster finished in double figures. He had 10.
Challenged in the locker room at halftime, De La Salle found two hot hands in the third quarter: Evan Wells and Blair.
Wells opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer, igniting a 15-4 run that gave the Spartans a 32-28 advantage.
The period ended with De La Salle on top 36-34.
“They played with more force and we let down our guard on what we were focusing on, getting them off the three-point line,” Mitty coach Tim Kennedy said. “The first couple of plays, they hit a couple of threes and then Blair is playing downhill. He is living in the paint. The opposite of what we were doing in the first half.”
But Mitty regrouped and led 43-38 on a putback by Eric Brown with under three minutes left.
From there, De La Salle did what it had to do to extend its season at least one more game.
Four players scored for the Spartans: Blair (16), Salkhi (11), Wells (10), Haggerty (nine).
“Our kids just battled,” De La Salle coach Marcus Schroeder said. “Every level, you’ve just got to kind of will it, especially late in the year. They’re a really, really good team. We’re a good team. Find out who is going to execute down the stretch and we were able to execute a little bit better.”