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STATE COLLEGE — There wasn't a passionate meeting with a desperate cry to get better.

There wasn't a specific moment when everything clicked for the Dallastown baseball team.

The Wildcats simply just got better. Actually, they started playing up to the level they were capable of playing.

Sitting at 3-4 and coming off a loss to rival Red Lion early in the regular season, Dallastown was at a crossroads. A team full of talent from top to bottom, with three NCAA Division I recruits and players with loads of experience at the varsity level, the Wildcats had a decision to make — continue to be average or start playing up to their potential and achieve something great.

 

To an outsider, the decision would seem like an easy one to make.

Why would anyone ever take being average over being great?

It's not that simple, however. The difference requires putting in the extra reps in practice, holding yourself more accountable and making sure that everyone has bought into the goal. If even one player isn't all-in, then the team isn't.

So, the Wildcats had a choice to make.

They chose greatness and they delivered.

A magical season, despite heartbreaking end: The final result was initially disappointing, losing Friday night's PIAA Class 6-A championship game 1-0 on a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh to Pennsbury. When you strive for greatness, however, you make yourself vulnerable to intense moments of heartbreak. It's part of the challenge.

 

Everything up the state title loss, however, was magical, and indicative of a team that bought in to wanting to be great. Even with the defeat, Dallastown was.

"We got together and truly found who we were on the field," senior catcher Bryant Holtzapple said. "We truly figured out how to compete with each other and, I believe, truly for each other. Every day, you stepped on the field, you wanted to get better, not for yourself, but for the other guys around you. You wanted to fulfill your role to help the team."

It was hard to pinpoint exactly what wasn't going right in those first seven games, but it was something.

Head coach Greg Kinneman attributes some of it to a litany of injuries to begin the year, including the crushing loss of junior third baseman and pitcher Nick Parker. In one early-season loss to Hempfield, Kinneman said his team was down five regular starters.

As much as there wasn't an exact reason for the slow start, however, the same can be said about the ensuing 20-game winning streak. 

"We just went on a run," senior shortstop Tye Golden said. "And that's not saying it was lucky. It was almost like those seven games we were off and then 20 games in a row we won." 

Sense of maturity: There was a sense of maturity in how the Wildcats went about their impressive winning streak. The players didn't view each win as an "oh-my-gosh" moment. It was taken in stride, almost like they expected to achieve that level of success.

Golden compared it to how a national-title contender in college football reacts to winning nine or 10 games in a row. They never let it become bigger than it had to be.

"Every once in a while, someone would say, 'we won 12 games in a row,'" Golden said. "But, it wasn't 'holy crap, we won 12 games in a row!' It was just like, we won another game ... and we were just playing well."

The snowstorm that rocked much of the state and region in March didn't help matters for Dallastown. Dallastown was coming off a lot of positive momentum after a strong offseason. That storm, however, impacted every other team's preparation, as well, not just the Wildcats.

Dealing with adversity: When faced with adversity early on, Dallastown wouldn't respond. Sometimes, a team needs to take its lumps before it truly learns how to win and deal with adversity. Once the Wildcats did that, there weren't many times during the streak when they had to deal with it.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the streak is that it didn't reach 21, which would've meant a state gold medal, the first in program history.

Looking to get back: In a way, however, it'll give next year's team something more to strive toward. That team surely won't want to feel the same emptiness that the 2017 team felt on Friday night.

Yet, when faced with a choice, Dallastown chose the path of greatness and delivered. It was the harder decision, but it was up for the challenge.

The players raised the standards of everyone who will follow in their footsteps.

The 20-game winning streak and 23-5 record are numbers. They don't tell the entire story about what this team achieved this season. The York-Adams League and District 3 6-A titles don't tell the whole story, either.

That story begins with a decision made back in April to want to be great. 

It was a decision that indicated that there had been a shift in the program.

"We've transformed a baseball program," Kinneman said. "A group of 20 kids has taken a baseball program that began to make some transformations last year and totally changed the landscape of it. One of my goals is for this program to be one of the best programs in the state of Pennsylvania 6-A. I don't want to be here now and be back in 10 years. I want to be here every year."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com

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