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Even in defeat, Dallastown carries itself like champions (column)

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The sun beat down at Dallastown baseball practice, on a hot Wednesday afternoon in York. Tye Golden was standing by the on-deck circle, while his teammates gathered beside the third-base dugout for one-on-one video interviews with local media.

The whole team was on hand — cracking jokes, sharing laughs, having fun. Golden, who seemingly wears a permanent smile no matter the circumstances, turned his attention toward his teammates. His hands on hips, the bill of his hat tilted high toward the sky, he nodded at his fellow Wildcats.

“That’s the fun part. If I do something dumb over there, I’m going to get picked on for it. But that’s just the way it is. And that’s the way it should be,” Golden said. “Hanging out with the guys, being together as brothers.”

That was the strength of this Wildcats’ team — the fact that the players were, in fact, one team. They cared for each other, they played for each other, and they carried themselves like champions. And it showed once again Friday night, in their 1-0 walk-off loss to Pennsbury in the PIAA Class 6A championship.

Of course, the Wildcats had a historic season in large part because of the talent throughout their roster. That never hurts when on a quest to become elite. 

Golden, the smooth shortstop and leadoff hitter, will play college baseball next year at Old Dominion. Stud catcher Bryant Holtzapple is Division I bound as well, ticketed for George Washington University.

Standout pitcher/third baseman Nick Parker isn’t far behind, a junior who’s committed to play at Coastal Carolina. 

And then there were the Capobianco brothers: Joe, a senior; and Peter, a freshman. Others such as Tracy Carr, Scott Geppi, Chace Miller, Zach Ness and Sean Reding solidified a relentless lineup that offered no easy outs. No one-strike, two-strike, three-strike, sit-down batters.

There were, rather, many deep counts, many runs scratched out. Yes, plenty of talented individuals. But those who played as one unit, all together, moving in the same direction simultaneously. Now that's a championship mentality.

“On paper, we did have a lot of talent. But that takes absolutely nothing away from what we did. In the weight room, especially in practice. Every day we showed up, our goal was to get a little bit better,” Holtzapple said, standing by the indoor batting cages Friday night at Medlar Field at Penn State University. “You didn’t want to get better just for yourself. You wanted to get better to help this team win. You see it in the games – the defense, the selfless at-bats, moving guys over, putting bunts down. It was not about self-statistics. Not at all. That was not the case here.”

Not to be outdone was the team's pitching staff: Parker, Alex Weakland, Jake Gates and Michael Carr. All of them played off each other, particular Parker and Weakland, who alternated shutdown performances throughout the team’s postseason drive to the title game.

Gates was huge for the Wildcats early in the season, when Parker was out with an arm injury. And Carr, the team's closer, will play baseball next year at PSU-Harrisburg.

“We went through a lot of adversity. We started the year 3-4, 20 straight wins to get here,” an emotional Weakland said following Friday night’s game. “I’ve never been part of such a close group. We have so much fun playing baseball. I’m going to miss it, so much.”

Much of the credit must go to the team’s veteran leaders, as well as its second-year head coach Greg Kinneman. He spent eight years at West York as an assistant under Roger Czerwinski, winning two state titles in his time with the Bulldogs.

But he was also a teacher in Dallastown School District, and decided to take the Wildcats' coaching job. Never had Dallastown won a District 3 title, let alone been to a state championship game.

After falling in the first round of districts last year, Dallastown responded this season with its second straight YAIAA title, finished first in the District 3 tournament, and then finished as runner-up at states.

“In the past we’ve had a lot of talent on our team. We just haven’t put that together, as a team,” Joe Capobianco said. “A lot of guys played for themselves in the past. And that really hurt us.”

That team-oriented, first-class mentality was on display throughout Friday's title game. During a three-hour rain delay, the Wildcats hung out by the indoor batting cages and kept it loose. They played games, told stories, and joked around with each other. Gates bellowed out the Canadian national anthem as the team wolfed down Subway sandwiches. It was just another day together at the ballpark — all good vibes, with no animosity. 

Following what was surely a difficult loss to swallow, no one hung his head. Yes, there were tears and emotion. There was no shame, however.

Kinneman and some of his leaders — Holtzapple, Golden and Weakland — stood tall and answered any and all questions that came their way. They honored Pennsbury in defeat, and recognized what they had accomplished as a team regardless of the title-game outcome. 

Watch: Tough title loss doesn't take away from Dallastown's season
Dallastown baseball transformed its program during a 20-game winning streak that led it to a state final appearance. But Pennsbury walked away with the gold medal, scoring with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Jim Seip, GameTimePA

"The season as a whole was awesome, amazing, it was the best thing I could ask for," Golden said. "Even the finish. I mean, whatever. We lost the game, but we got here. And I had a lot of fun doing it."

Make no mistake: Talent matters. But what makes a championship team is just that – how they carry themselves. And these Wildcats displayed that quality above all else in 2017.

“I think they all care a lot about each other, which I think is really important. I don’t think you can win 20-straight games if you don’t care about the people around you,” Kinneman pointed out. “We’ve got a lot of unselfish guys, who are willing to put the team before themselves.”