CARLISLE — It wasn't the shot that Dallastown boys' basketball head coach Mike Grassel drew up.
It wasn't the cleanest look, but, it was a look.
When Wildcats' senior Donovan Catchings dribbled out of a timeout and went to put up a last-second 3-pointer, he had it knocked out of his hands. The ball was kicked around and fell to junior Da'Trail Albert, who let fly one final corner 3-point attempt as the buzzer sounded. He saw it get one-third of the way down and then rim out.
Albert was in disbelief. Other members of Dallastown put their hands on their heads and stared at the ceiling, while a few crouched down and buried their heads in their hands. Meanwhile, Carlisle sprinted as fast as it could to the far end of the court, erupting in celebration with the rest of the sold-out Carlisle High School gymnasium.
A massive sigh of relief, however, may have been more fitting.
The missed 3-pointer meant the Thundering Herd had survived an upset bid, while the Wildcats saw their season come to a crushing end, 80-77 in the first round of the District 3 6-A playoffs Tuesday night.
"I wasn't expecting to shoot," Albert said about getting the final shot. "But, in those moments, you just have to live in the moment and just go with it."
The heartbreak that Dallastown (14-9) felt as time ran out on its season was hardly deserved.
Providing a challenge: Entering the night as the No. 12 seed — the final team to make the 12-team tournament — the Wildcats knew that it was going to take a special effort to knock off No. 5 Carlisle and NCAA Division I prospect, Deshawn Millington.
Dallastown, however, was more than game for the challenge. After trailing by as many as 10 points in the second quarter, the Wildcats cut the deficit to five by halftime. They would grab the lead on a number of occasions in the second half, beginning with 5 minutes, 16 seconds to go in the third quarter after Braden Caldwell knocked down a 3-pointer. Dallastown, however, never got up by more than three points in the game, with that margin coming midway through the fourth quarter.
The entire second half was played as a back-and-forth dogfight, with both teams answering the other team's run. The Wildcats had been in those types of games on a number of occasions this year, getting mixed results. They desperately wanted to make this one end with a positive outcome and see their season live on.
It looked like Dallastown wasn't even going to get a shot to force OT when the Thundering Herd (16-7) led by four and began heading to the free throw line with less than 30 seconds to play. The Herd, however, went just 1 for 3 on a couple trips to the charity stripe. A 3-pointer by Catchings then made it a two-point contest with less than 10 seconds to play. Millington then split a pair of free throws to push the Herd advantage back to three, giving the Wildcats a final look to try and extend the contest.
"There was never a doubt in my mind that we were going to come in and compete," Grassel said. "I don't care who thought it in the stands, every one of those kids thought we were going to win the game and every one of our coaches thought we were going to win the game. I don't care who we have or don't have, those kids played a heck of a game."
Dallastown's effort was all the more impressive because it didn't have leading scorer Brandon McGlynn. He's been sidelined with a concussion for the better part of three weeks and couldn't even make the trip to be on the bench with his team.
So, the Wildcats were forced to look elsewhere for scoring. Fortunately, they found it in Catchings and Albert. Catchings finished with a career-high 29 points in his final high school game, while Albert topped out at 22 points.
Playing catch up: Like pretty much everyone for Dallastown, except Albert, who had seven points in the opening quarter, it took Catchings a while to get going. He was held scoreless through the opening quarter and that allowed Carlisle to grab a 22-14 lead after one. But, the senior caught fire in the second quarter, knocking down three 3-pointers as part of a 13-point frame to help the Wildcats pull to within 42-37 at halftime. The duo combined to knock down nine of the team's 11 3-pointers.
"I'm proud of these guys for fighting for me and finally getting here," Catchings said.
The two continued to carry Dallastown through the third quarter and into the fourth, while other members found their stride. Justin Atwood, hampered for much of the second half with foul trouble, finished with nine points and was a force on the glass, going toe-to-toe with the number of Herd big men.
Carlisle got 22 points from Gavyn Barnes, 20 from Millington, 17 from Ethan Houston and 12 from Ben Milligan. The Herd will face No. 4 Harrisburg (16-6) Friday in the quarterfinals.
It was a sour ending to a season filled with expectations for the Wildcats. With most of the roster returning next year, Dallastown will look to improve on this year's success.
"They got that taste in their mouth and that's going to drive us through the offseason now," Grassel said. "We can't be fat and happy. They're not satisfied. There's not a person in that locker room that (sees) a moral victory. ...We talk about the process of them working hard every day in the weight room. Them coming in, when they want to go out and it's a nice summer day, and getting some extra shots up, that's what's going to do it for us and push us to the next level."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org