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The Dallastown boys rallied from a four-point deficit in the final 10 seconds to pull off an unlikely win on the road at William Penn Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com

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The rest of the league took notice to what happened with the Dallastown boys’ basketball team earlier this month.

Late on Jan. 3, far away from Dallastown, a player on one of those other YAIAA Division I team's broke the silence as his team bus rumbled home. He couldn’t believe what he saw on social media. South Western defeated Dallastown?

Everyone had the same thought: That can’t be right.

Soon the entire bus was buzzing, everyone checking their phones and talking.

Dallastown, considered one of the best teams in the league, lost to the Mustangs — a two-win team right now. Three nights later, Spring Grove knocked off the Wildcats.

But don’t write off Dallastown. Not until you understand what the team has played through in recent weeks.

The team lost two of its starters.

Braden Caldwell went down with an injury in Dallastown’s overtime win against Manheim Township in late December. In Dallastown’s next game, against South Western, Will Barton — who splits time in the starting rotation —went down.

It was an important learning experience, and perhaps a growing moment for a lineup with one senior starter.

“We have gamers, but not all of our guys had taken practices as seriously leading up to the South Western game,” Dallastown coach Mike Grassel said.

That has changed.

So even when Dallastown lost against Spring Grove, Grassel saw an improvement in his team’s effort.

Despite the lineup shuffling, Dallastown gutted out a down-to-the-wire, 44-42, win against Penn Manor. It wasn’t pretty, but it was the type of game Grassel thought his team might have lost a year or two ago.

The team's four-game stretch (against Manheim Township, South Western, Spring Grove and Penn Manor) accounted for four of the six-lowest scoring performances of the year for the Wildcats. But the payoff for going through that rough stretch might come at the end of the year.

The injuries “kind of forced my hand to get more guys playing time,” Grassel said.

Moreover, it helped end a stretch where the Wildcats had been, according to Grassel, playing on the edge. The Wildcats somehow scored five points in the final 10 seconds to beat William Penn, and they allowed a late 3-pointer to Manheim Township before winning in overtime.

"If you keep playing that way, eventually you are going to get burned," Grassel said. "South Western got us."

But what happened next could define Dallastown's season. The role players improved, and the stars took on more responsibilities.

“Brandon McGlynn has a great basketball IQ, but he’s a pass-first guy,” Grassel said. “He’s bought into his role, and he’s leading us in 3-point shooting and shooting about 90 percent from the free-throw line.”

Donovan Catchings has helped pick up some of the scoring slack. Da’Trail Albert has knocked down big shots. Ben Ward and Justin Atwood have been rocks down low, with Atwood registering five blocks the other night. Those players are playing at a different level than they had been to start the month, and Barton and Caldwell have since returned to the lineup.

It's a new-look team, which could be bad news for the rest of the league.

The Wildcats’ next game, however, is yet another test: First-place Northeastern (15-0, 8-0 YAIAA Division I) travels to third-place Dallastown (10-3, 5-3).Their first meeting ended with a 70-58 Northeastern victory on Dec. 16, but it was a game in doubt until Northeastern closed it out on a 10-0 run to make the game look lopsided. It wasn’t.

“We know we can play with them,” Grassel said.

“We’re a different team and they’re a different team. Both of us have grown over the year, but this is a good litmus test.”

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