Dallastown boys' basketball coach Mike Grassel challenged his players at halftime.
Less than 24 hours after losing in the final seconds to New Oxford and hurting their York-Adams League Division I playoff hopes, the Wildcats were just a half away from dropping another crucial game, with this one drastically impacting their District 3 Class 6-A Tournament dreams.
Trailing by eight at the break on the road at Dover, Dallastown responded to Grassel's plea, ratcheting up the defensive pressure over the final 16 minutes, erasing a 12-point third-quarter deficit and stealing a 75-66 win over the Eagles.
Stealing being the operative word.
The Wildcats (12-6 overall) didn't lead until there were 5 minutes, 45 seconds left in the game, and even then, it took longer for them to hold the lead for good. In all, Dallastown held a lead for less than five minutes of the 32-minute contest, but the Wildcats led when it mattered most — at the end.
"Credit to Dover and coach (Brian) Schmoyer's bunch," Grassel said. "Obviously, they have a lot of shooters, which makes them difficult to defend. So, credit to them. They're a good basketball team and there's a reason they're leading Division II right now."
The turning point in the game came midway through the third quarter after the Eagles (12-6) opened up their largest advantage of the game at 44-32. The Wildcats resorted to a full-court press and then started double-teaming the basketball, creating several turnovers, which led to easy transition buckets. By the end of the third quarter, Dallastown completely erased its deficit and entered the final frame deadlocked at 53-53.
"That's our style of play," Dallastown's Braden Caldwell said about the team changing up its play in the second half. "We like to play fast-paced."
Even with the large hole erased, the Wildcats still struggled to get over the hump and grab the lead for good. They fell behind to start the fourth quarter and then leveled the score again, but failed to convert on a couple chances to take the lead. Da'Trail Albert was the one who finally got Dallastown into the lead, though it was short-lived. But, it was his strong fourth quarter, along with Brandon McGlynn, which carried the Wildcats. They eventually got up by two possessions midway through the frame and then eventually pulled away down the stretch. Of the 22 points Dallastown tallied over the final eight minutes, McGlynn and Albert were responsible for 17 of them.
The entire game was a product of strong shooting from both teams, with a combined 20 3-pointers being made. So, as much as both coaches would like to think there are some things they could've done better defensively, at some point they had to tip their caps to the opposition's shooting.
"I think both teams shot the ball very well, tonight," Schmoyer said. "... I just think, down the stretch, their pressure got to us a little bit and executed a little bit better than we did."
Schmoyer's team got off to a strong start. The smaller program by class size and by total roster size, Dover knocked down four 3-pointers in the opening frame to build an 18-10 advantage after one. Then, after weathering a Wildcats' run that evened the score at 27-27, the Eagles ended the first half on an 8-0 run to hold a 35-27 lead.
If the pressure was one deciding factor that cost Dover the game, so too was Dallastown's up-tempo style. Typically, the Eagles will face more half-court sets when they face Division II foes, but playing against one of the top teams in Division I that has the athletes to run-and-gun, Dover's short bench proved to be a problem.
"We play six guys," Schmoyer said. "...It was a battle tonight. Dallastown brings the pressure defensively. They're in your face, ball pressure, out denying wings. I really think our guys did a nice job working for everything we got offensively. ...But, I think their full-court pressure got to us a bit there in the fourth quarter."
There were a combined seven players in double figures for the game, led by McGlynn's game-high 21. He was joined by Albert's 18, Donovan Catchings' 16 and Caldwell's 15 for the Wildcats. The Eagles were led by Keith Davis' 20, followed by Brady Bowman's 19 and Elijah Sutton's 15.
The win was critical for Dallastown to bounce back from Tuesday's tough loss. Now, it can go into its final four games — the next three of which are division contests — with momentum as it looks to make one last push toward the postseason.
"Somebody had to pay the price for last night and it was Dover," Ben Ward said. "We had to come out firing and we started out slow, but we got it up to speed."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com