Even though the humble nature of the successful Dallastown High School baseball team won’t allow its members to admit it just yet, something special is happening this season.
The Wildcats (23-4) are riding a memorable 20-game winning streak into Friday’s PIAA Class 6-A championship game at Penn State. Dallastown will look to become the first baseball state champion from York County since West York brought home a second consecutive title in 2013.
It’s a run that has about every element you could ask for if you were tasked with crafting a storybook postseason. It's one that began after a gut-check loss early in the season to rival Red Lion on April 10.
From that point forward, the Wildcats would rewrite team history by winning a York-Adams Division I title, then taking a York-Adams League Tournament crown and adding a District 3 Class 6-A banner before making the deepest state run in program history. That run included a 6-1 state semifinal victory over State College on Monday.
Elements of a champion: As one would expect, this team features the classic elements of a champion, such as a deep lineup that features three NCAA Division I prospects and six players who entered Monday with an average of .300 or above. It's a squad that has now beaten, two Division I recruit pitchers in Hatsboro-Horsham’s Bryan Edgington (St. Joseph’s) and State College’s Mason Mellott (Penn State).
The Wildcats also boast a wealth of athletic arms. A group that began the season as a question mark for coach Greg Kinneman has blossomed into a bevy of top-notch hurlers.
Sophomore starter Alex Weakland’s mature-beyond-his-years approach helped carry the staff early before it added Nick Parker to the fold in May. Parker, committed to play for 2016 NCAA champion Coastal Carolina, has been lights out during the postseason after overcoming an early-season injury.
Senior Jake Gates has also been a solid starter throughout the season and Michael Carr has proven a shutdown reliever.
Right mindset: What really might make this team most successful, however, is that it approaches each game with the right collective mindset. The Wildcats are refreshing because it's clear they’re playing for the right reason first and foremost — fun.
“Our guys are so loose in the dugout and it’s just fun to be out here playing every day,” Joe Capobianco said. “It’s the middle of June now and we're out here still playing high school baseball. It’s awesome.”
Every player seems to be enjoying the moment, and not minding at all that they’re putting their summers on hold to play the game they love with a group they have blast with. Dallastown is a complete team in Kinneman’s eyes because the coach sees direct contributions from every player on the roster, regardless of their place in the lineup — if they even have a place in the lineup.
“We’ve talked the whole way through the season, especially the postseason, that we need all 20 guys in the dugout right now,” Kinneman said. “Whether or not they’re on the field starting that day or in the dugout, we need those guys too. Those guys that have been in the dugout have been phenomenal. They’re part of what helps keep us loose, lots of chatter, lots of fun in the dugout, and our guys feed off that.”
The camaraderie that the loose atmosphere produces is evident in the way the Wildcats support each other. From the endless dugout chatter during play, to the way they playfully intervene in each other’s post-game interviews.
Their connection and appreciation for one another is evident on the field as well. Each member in the lineup seems to perfectly complement the production of the batter before to generate runs.
Stellar defense: It’s one thing to pinpoint the pitching as the immediate reason for the success, but the Dallastown hurlers will quickly tell you they wouldn’t be nearly as successful without their teammates having their back.
Take Monday’s superb fielding effort from shortstop Tye Golden. Golden was a veritable vacuum at shortstop, having a hand in 11 of the 21 outs recorded against State College.
“It’s great,” Parker said of his defense. “For me, a ground-ball pitcher, having someone like that back there to scoop everything up is nice. Holtzy (Bryant Holtzapple), a senior catcher, kind of leading us and being able to rely on him, and the defense, has been spectacular, you can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Hunch pays off: This ride has also had its fair share of special moments that just seem to fall into place. Such as coach Kinneman’s "hunch" Monday that little-used senior Scott Geppi would deliver in the clutch.
Geppi slammed a two-run double in the bottom of the fifth inning that gave the Wildcats a 5-1 lead.
“Scott Geppi, there’s a kid who really didn’t play all year,” Kinneman said. “That was his seventh or eighth at-bat of the year. We put him in the DH role on a hunch, and he delivers a huge hit in the game.”
Community support: The run is also special in that it has captured the hearts of the community. The Wildcats feature a sizable traveling troop of supporters, ranging from emotional parents to former coaches from the earliest days of Dallastown youth baseball.
This group often appears to be as boisterous and having as much fun as the players they support.
Win or lose Friday, no one can deny this team’s place in the pantheon of previous York County greats.
The only thing left to do to now is craft the perfect ending. While sports are hardly ever guaranteed to deliver such an endings, it’s tough to think of a recent team more deserving.
Reach Elijah Armold at email@example.com.