Every season, Dallastown baseball manager Greg Kinneman comes up with a new mantra for his team.
A year ago, it was "All In," a message that required every single member of the Wildcats to buy into the program to achieve the ultimate success.
While Monday signified the official start to the 2017 spring sport season and Kinneman still is ways away from revealing the team motto for the upcoming season, you can guess that, whatever it becomes, there won't be any issue of any of the players buying into the team. It won't be because of a few words on the team-issued warm-up shirts, but because of how the 2016 season ended — a year filled with so much regular season and York-Adams League success, but had an abrupt ending with a first-round upset in the District 3 4-A tournament that put a halt to all of it before Dallastown could realize its full potential.
"It's something that we did discuss a little bit," Kinneman said about the team using the district upset as motivation for the upcoming year. "...As we reconvened in the fall and started doing some workouts together, it's something we definitely discussed, but not something we're dwelling on. It's in the past and we move on past that. It certainly ended a little bit sooner than we wanted to, so I think our guys are hungry to get out and start competing again."
Abrupt end: In 2016, the Wildcats cruised through the Y-A League, capturing the Division I title and then the league championship, en route to a 19-3 record heading into the district tournament and a No. 4 seed in the 16-team field. They earned themselves an opportunity to play a home baseball game against a lesser opponent.
Yet, when Dallastown took the field against No. 13 Cedar Cliff, nothing went right, as the Colts stunned the Wildcats with a 6-2 win. With the offseason beginning earlier than expected, it left Dallastown with more time to contemplate what all went wrong in the win-or-go-home game. But, as the weeks passed and seasons changed, the disappointment subsided and it only turned into motivation for 2017.
"We didn't really talk about it," senior catcher Bryant Holtzapple said about the district loss. "But, everybody had that same distaste of what happened last year, that, if we work harder now, then we'll be able to finish those games out in the postseason."
Talented group: Entering this season, it could be argued there isn't a team in the Y-A League more talented than the Wildcats. Of their returners, at least three of them have already signed or verbally committed to play at the Division I level in college. Holtzapple is signed to George Washington, senior infielder Tye Golden is signed with Old Dominion and junior Nick Parker verbally committed back in October to play for the reigning College World Series champions, Coastal Carolina.
All three were instrumental in Dallastown's success last year and will again be leaned on to continue their production because the Wildcats will be the target of every team in Division I.
"Going out on top of the division and the county, people are going to come for us and they're going to give us their best shot every day on the field," Holtzapple said. "But, we're going to be ready just as much as they are."
Hole on the mound: While guys like Holtzapple, Golden and Parker are among some of the major returners in the entire league, Dallastown won't be without its holes.
While returning positional players are plentiful for the Wildcats, the two biggest losses from last year's team — Riley Hamberger and Avery Strayer — were the team's top-two pitchers, leaving Kinneman with a large void to fill on the mound. He estimated that, between Hamberger and Strayer, the two combined to toss about 80 percent of the team's innings. So, Kinneman will use the next couple weeks of practice leading up to the first meaningful game to evaluate who he has that could potentially replace the lost innings. Right now, he's looking at Parker as being the probable ace, with returners Jake Gates and Zach Ness as secondary options.
Lofty expectations: Regardless of how last season ended, who was lost and who's returning, Kinneman understands that the bar for the Wildcats has been raised.
They'll be among the favorites to repeat as Division I and Y-A League champs and then will hope to have more success in districts.
But, ultimately, Kinneman has one goal in mind for this year's team and it isn't minor.
"Our expectations now are to win the (Class) 6-A state title," he said. "That's going to be our expectation and it doesn't matter what year it is and how things change, that's always going to be our goal. Obviously, we may not always reach that goal, but that's what we're going to shoot for."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com