HAZLETON – The Dallas boys basketball team turned its first Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament appearance since 2008 into a special experience.
Before they were done, the Mountaineers and their all-senior starting lineup gave the school its first state tournament win since 1991 and turned in a memorable effort in elimination with a double-overtime game in Tuesday night’s second round.
“I thank them for the ride they put me on,” Mountaineers coach Mark Belenski said outside a somber Dallas locker room when the 21-6 season was over. “They’re a bunch of great kids.
“I’m going to miss them. I miss them already.”
District 2 runner-up Dallas defeated Lower Dauphin, 70-54, March 9 at Wyoming Area High School, then had District 11 champion Allentown Central Catholic in trouble several times Tuesday night before falling, 61-59, in two overtimes at Hazleton Area’s McGeehan Gymnasium.
Dallas, competing in Class 5A, the second-largest of the PIAA’s six classifications, was making its seventh state tournament appearance, but only the second since 1991.
The Mountaineers lost 90-47 to Montrose in 1967 and 76-51 to Central Columbia in 1973 in Class 2A first-round games.
The school got its first state tournament win ever in 1984 with a 66-56 victory over Gettysburg in Class 3A by its most recent district championship team. Central York knocked the Mountaineers out, 74-59, in the next round.
Dallas returned to the Class 3A district final and the state tournament the next year, but lost to Allentown Central Catholic, 69-57, in the first round.
The 1991 team beat Delaware Valley, 69-32, in the Class 3A state opener, then lost to York Catholic, 78-50.
The only state appearance since was a 54-36 loss to Susquehanna Township in 2008 in Class 3A.
The latest dry spell ended this season.
“I’m very proud of the season they had,” Belenski said. “I think they put Dallas basketball back on the map.
“I hope they can keep us there.”
Allentown Central Catholic 61
Both teams had chances before the Vikings put the game away.
Dallas never led in the first overtime, but had leads in the final minute of both regulation and the second overtime.
Allentown Central Catholic opened a pair of three-point leads in the first overtime, then a pair of four-point leads in the second overtime, matching its biggest advantages in a game where neither team ever led by more than five.
Alex Charlton and Jay Bittner brought the Mountaineers back one last time.
Bittner hit a 3-pointer from 22 feet with 1:09 remaining in the second overtime for a 56-55 lead. Charlton, who went 8-for-8 from the line in the fourth quarter and two overtimes, had hit two with 1:53 left to get the Mountaineers within a basket.
Keeshawn Kellman scored the go-ahead basket with 35 seconds left to finish with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Reserve Chad Kratzer went 5-for-6 from the line in the second overtime as the Vikings took a 61-57 lead before Jack Farrell converted an offensive rebound at the final buzzer for the Mountaineers.
Allentown Central Catholic had committed 14 turnovers through three quarters before getting through the fourth quarter and two overtimes – 16 minutes of high-pressure basketball – with just one.
“They handled the ball; they didn’t turn it over,” said Belenski, who compared the Vikings to his Mountaineers. “They’re hard-nosed kids.
“Everything you need to do in a basketball game, they did.”
The Vikings hurt the Mountaineers on the boards with a 33-25 rebounding advantage that also contributed to Dallas foul trouble.
Matt Mathers, who led Dallas with 14 points and seven rebounds, and Nick Kocher, who had six rebounds, each fouled out.
Bittner finished with 13 points and three assists while Charlton had 12 points in the loss.
Jordan McChristian’s 3-pointer for the Vikings with 32 seconds left in regulation forced the first overtime at 44-44.
The teams ended the first extra session tied at 49-49 after Kocher hit one of two free throws for Dallas with 33.8 seconds left.
The game’s biggest leads were held by the Mountaineers at 28-23 and 30-25 in the first 2:38 of the second half.
Allentown Central Catholic took a 25-4 record into Friday’s state quarterfinals.
Lower Dauphin 54
Joey Parsons awakened a stagnant offense in the third quarter with three 3-pointers, sending Dallas into the second round.
Parsons finished with 18 points. Bittner had a team-high 19, closing out the game on the foul line where the Mountaineers shot 31 free throws compared to 14 by Lower Dauphin. Charlton and Mathers had 12 points each.
Two aspects that cost Dallas against Abington Heights in the District 2 title game reared their heads in the first half.
A bigger Lower Dauphin team, led by center Will Bowen, controlled the boards early. Dallas was able to even things out in the second quarter.
“I was worried early,” Belenski said. “We learned from last week we have to rebound and I thought we did a great job. I think they (the Falcons) had very few offensive rebounds. Against a big team, kudos to my guys. They woke up and played well tonight.”
But the second quarter brought poor shooting, as Dallas hit just 2 of 18 attempts from the field, yet was able to sneak into halftime with a 24-23 lead. Parsons changed that with his 3-pointers, allowing Dallas to start to tilt the momentum and build its lead to as high as eight.
“We were driving the gaps and kicking it out and I was getting some wide-open looks,” Parsons said.
Meanwhile, District 3 fourth-seed Lower Dauphin (19-8) pounded the ball inside to Bowen, who closed out the third with a couple inside baskets to move the Falcons within 45-41.
Dallas blasted off on an 8-0 run to start the fourth, with Farrell tossing in a rebound for the final points and a 53-41 lead. Farrell, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, crashed the glass for nine rebounds. Bittner led Dallas with 10 boards for a double-double.
While Lower Dauphin found success going inside to Bowen, who finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, the Falcons failed to get him the ball in the fourth quarter. Instead, they launched a series of off-the-mark 3-pointers although a 3-pointer by Casey Caruso was able to cut the deficit to 58-52 with 3:11 to play.
Mathers answered. He scored four consecutive points to allow the Mountaineers to bump the lead back to double digits.
“We knew they had some big bodies; they had the Caruso kid who could really shoot it,” Bittner said. “Other than that, we didn’t know much about them. That was concerning but also kind of nice because they didn’t know much about us.”