In the biggest game of any of their basketball careers, the Boyertown girls basketball team glaringly forgot something: the Bears didn’t remember to feel any nerves.
In fact, the Bears didn’t seem to be bothered by any weight of the occasion on Monday night when they faced District 12 champion and 2016 PIAA runner-up Cardinal O’Hara in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals.
Playing with a noticeable looseness from opening tip to final buzzer, Boyertown put forth a spirited display that culminated with senior Abby Kapp’s jumper with 1.1 seconds remaining for a monumental 39-37 victory over favored O’Hara to earn its way on to an even bigger stage – the first 6A state championship game.
The Bears (27-5), the sixth-place team from District 1, meet District 7’s North Allegheny in their first visit to the PIAA final, which commences Friday night at 6 p.m. at the Giant Center in Hershey.
It wasn’t so much that Boyertown won, it was how much fun they were having while doing it in a game that was as tight as could be all 32 minutes.
“Everyone was underestimating us for this game. Everyone wasn’t expecting us to win, they were expecting Cardinal O’Hara to come out and kick the crap out of us,” junior Tori Boalton said. “We were just trying to play our game. We knew if we played our game we would be able to win and that’s what we did.”
“When we are playing for each other and playing off each other, passing the ball around, it’s fun,” senior guard Alli Marcus said. “Being tense will do nothing for us. We know to go out and have fun and I guess it’s shown.”
Everyone knows winning is fun and the Bears have done plenty of that since knocking off three-time defending state champion Cumberland Valley in the first round of states.
It’s also fun having the best player on the floor, which the Bucknell-bound Kapp has been all postseason, clearly illustrated with a 28-point performance in the second round or her game-winning baskets in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
It’s fun having a player like senior Katie Armstrong morph from a rotation player into a reliable all-league first team player.
It’s fun having the other starters – senior Marcus, and juniors Kylie Webb and Boalton, who had 10 huge points Monday despite playing on a sprained ankle since the start of states – take turns stepping into the forefront with each new game.
But none of them seem to be having as much fun as the rest of the Bears’ roster.
While coach Jason Bieber’s rotation typically goes six or seven players deep – reserves Avery Sweisfort and Jennifer O’Connor figure in – the Bears’ bench staked their claim as the stars of the Monday’s semifinal.
The group that features seniors Candice Sweisfort, Lauren Moyer, Lindsay Hillegas, juniors Hannah Pellicciotti, Brynn Schmidt, Eliana Rightmyer and freshmen Julia Smith and Amber Marburger helped create an atmosphere that paved the Bears’ way to Hershey.
Whether it was being fired up from the opening basket, unbridled exuberance over Boalton’s rainbow 3 in the third quarter or the ready-to-rush-the-court moment after Kapp’s winning basket, the power of positivity was on Boyertown’s side.
“I think the definition of ‘team’ really shines through us,” Marcus said. “We all support each other no matter what, whether it’s the bench players, an injured player, the starters.”
The Bears have found the chemistry that’s carried them to the state final.
“The biggest part is the team chemistry. Over the years that’s what’s been missing from us,” said Marcus, a multi-year starter and co-captain with Kapp. “It’s everyone accepting their role. We only play six or seven girls, but everyone accepts their position: we have our bench cheering so hard for us. In the past people have been upset with their roles, but this year everyone accepts it, works hard and does whatever they can to help the team.
“We have a really good team bond and chemistry. We create an environment where we just want to play for each other.”
With that kind of collectivism it’s no wonder Boyertown extended its season as long as it could possibly go.