BASKETBALL

Playing for its coach, Dallastown boys' basketball upsets Central York on road

The Wildcats won 67-64 against the first-place Panthers with head coach Mike Grassel sidelined after a health scare.

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch

The Dallastown boys’ basketball season had already seen several forms of adversity. 

The veteran group lost a key piece in the second game of the season when senior guard Maliki Chambers suffered an injury. And while the Wildcats had the depth and talent to remain competitive against anyone, a string of narrow losses left their record at 6-6 entering Tuesday’s York-Adams Division I clash at Central York.

This Monday, a health scare for head coach Mike Grassel prompted Dallastown to postpone a home contest against York High. The Wildcats returned to the floor without Grassel on Wednesday, and they played like a team inspired to make their coach proud. Against the first-place Panthers, to whom they had fallen in double-overtime a month ago, they did just that.

Dallastown handed Central York its first division loss of the season Wednesday, surviving a frantic final two minutes for a 67-64 road victory. The Wildcats led throughout the night, the margin stretching as wide as 13 points in the second half and 12 late in the contest.

Central York's Saxton Suchanic (3) and Ben Natal (1) against Dallastown's Will Scott (10) during their boys basketball game in Springettsbury on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.

“They played with passion, they played with purpose, and that’s the only way I think they could have won,” Panthers head coach Jeff Hoke said. “They outplayed us — they played harder than us today.”

Donovan Catchings, who played point guard at Dallastown before graduating in 2017, served as the Wildcats’ acting head coach Wednesday. He got more than he bargained for at the end, as a slew of missed free throws and Central York buckets saw a 59-47 lead with 2:09 remaining become a 62-61 game with 48.1 seconds left. But his team came away with the road win, and he found himself in the middle of a celebratory locker room.

“It’s been exciting,” Catchings said of the night. “I just did my best to put my guys in the right position, including the staff. I just wanted to motivate them to get the win.

“We were really playing for Coach (Grassel), so that helped us with our motivation. We just wanted to get that dub.”

Central York against Dallastown during their boys basketball game in Springettsbury on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.

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All-star senior point guard DJ Smith led the Wildcats (7-6, 3-3 Division I) with 30 points, his second time reaching the threshold against the Panthers this season (he had 35 in the 81-80 loss on Dec. 16). Will Scott scored all 12 of his points in the second half, while Conner Barto chipped in nine. Kobe McNealy hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter, and Chris Bullock added two triples in the second period as both finished with six points.

The Wildcats led 19-12 after the first eight minutes, and Bullock’s 3-pointer just before halftime gave the visitors a 34-27 advantage at the break. It was 51-40 through three quarters, and Smith’s nifty layup made it 53-40 with 6:32 remaining. 

Central York came off the mat to make a furious push — Ben Rill’s 3-point play, Ben Natal’s putback layup and Greg Guidinger’s corner triple in succession closed the gap to 61-58 with 1:05 to play. Guidinger then was fouled on a 3-pointer and sank the foul shots to make it 62-61. The Wildcats had their issues at the foul line — they went 10-of-19 in the fourth quarter and Smith was 5-of-11 — but twice, after Smith missed a pair of free throws, the ball ended up back in his hands and he made the next two. That proved to be the difference.

“He’s a leader. He’s the heart and soul of the team,” Catchings said of Smith. “So when he’s playing well, everybody’s playing well. Everyone wants to follow his lead.”

Central York against Dallastown during their boys basketball game in Springettsbury on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.

Natal led Central York (11-5, 7-1) with 19 points, 13 of which came in the first half. The 6-foot-8 Rill notched 12 of his 18 in the second half, and the 6-7 Guidinger had 11 of his 18 in the fourth quarter. Freshman Ryan Brown had nine points, including a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds left that cut the lead to 66-64. Barto then split his free throws and the Panthers couldn’t find the final bucket.

Hoke’s team remains atop the Division I standings, albeit just a half-game ahead of York High. The Panthers have been blessed with talent and saddled with youth — Central York has had no seniors in its rotation since Ethan Dodson’s injury last month and started two freshmen Wednesday. The “Cardiac Cats” overcame slow starts and rough patches in their 7-0 division start but finally found a mountain they couldn’t climb.

“We just have not been able to come out of the gate against anybody,” Hoke said. “We've changed starting lineups, we have a lot of young guys, we’re trying different defenses and offenses and we’ve got to start better. What you do in the first part of the game is going to bite you in the butt at the end. You can't just make up for those things.”

Central York's Ben Natal (1) against Dallastown's Chris Bullock (13) during their boys basketball game in Springettsbury on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.

The loss sets up the most highly anticipated game in Division I this season Friday at York High. The host Bearcats — who improved to 11-3 (6-1) with Wednesday’s 64-55 win over Red Lion — can usurp first place from the Panthers with a win. York High led for the majority of its 68-65 loss at Central York on Dec. 20, and it has more than enough size, shooting and athleticism to present an even stiffer challenge at home.

“That’s the Super Bowl (this) Friday,” Hoke said. “We’re everybody’s Super Bowl this year, but this is ours on Friday. We’ve got to go get it or we’re in trouble.”

Dallastown’s game against the Bearcats has been rescheduled to Feb. 7. The Wildcats host Red Lion on Friday.