The Boyertown girls basketball team was nervous. Really nervous.
It showed for much of the first half of their first trip to the PIAA championship game – the inaugural Class 6A title game no less. Yet for all the turnovers and uncharacteristic shooting – they started 1-for-9 from the floor – the Bears somehow never lost sight of North Allegheny.
Like so many times before, the Bears had Abby Kapp to thank.
In the previous two rounds, the brilliant 6-0 senior forward propelled the Bears with game-winning baskets to deliver Boyertown its first trip to the basketball state final.
Kapp’s version of a game-winner wasn’t in the final seconds Friday, but it was just as pivotal.
The Bucknell-bound Bear’s first-half double-double – 10 points (2-for-2 on 3-pointers) and 10 rebounds – kept Boyertown afloat enough for her teammates to find their sea legs and then some in the second half to deliver the Bears the PIAA Class 6A crown with a 46-35 victory over District 7 champion North Allegheny.
Kapp’s talent has been clear her entire scholastic career – she was the Mercury All-Area Player of the Year as a sophomore when the Bears made states and this season became Boyertown girls basketball’s all-time leading scorer. She finishes her career on 1,671 points, second to only Brad Unger (1,684) in Boyertown history.
Kapp’s 17-point, 13-rebound performance in the state final solidified one of the finest careers in area history.
Last year’s disappointment has turned into this year’s triumph.
“After we got upset in the first round of districts last year, (Abby) and Alli Marcus were the first two to come to me and say, ‘That’s not going to happen again.’ We’re going to refocus and get together,” Boyertown coach Jason Bieber said. “It was her deciding, ‘This is my senior year and I’m going to do something special.’”
Kapp showed an increased assertiveness as a leader and player in her final season, her confidence in herself and her teammates coloring everything the Bears accomplished in 2016-17, which included a Pioneer Athletic Conference championship
“As a senior, I knew going in I would have to take on a more verbal leadership role and I think my teammates expected that out of me,” Kapp said. “I knew going into this season that we could do great things and I think they trusted me, and Alli Marcus as captains, to lead this team on a championship run as we did.”
In the state tournament, after the Bears settled for the No. 6 seed from District 1, Kapp was at her finest, scoring 28 points in a second-round win over Garnet Valley and 14 and 17 in her games marked by late-game heroics against Northampton in the quarters and Cardinal O’Hara in the semifinals.
When leading by words wasn’t enough, like in Friday’s final, the team-first Kapp has developed into a player who knows when she needs to let her star shine.
“My coaches and I have an understanding of time and score of when I need to starting “taking over” games. I think Coach Bieber trusts me to take those shots and my teammates trust me to go on a run,” Kapp said. “Once I started going, everyone starts going. We feed off each other’s energy and the good things we’re doing on the court.”
Kapp scored 10 of the Bears’ 14 first-half points to keep them within 19-14 of North Allegheny. Once the third quarter hit, the confidence Kapp maintained in her teammates started taking hold.
Kapp for three! 11-9. pic.twitter.com/lwngsC9wYO
— Thomas Nash (@Thomas_Nash10) March 24, 2017
“Everyone on the team has the ability to step up and make those shots,” Kapp said. “It’s just a matter of time with who it’s going to be and when’s it going to happen. I have complete confidence in all my teammates.”
Katie Armstrong, Marcus, Tori Boalton and Kylie Webb all came alive in the second half, shutting down North Allegheny 12-2 in the third quarter and never let them get closer than six down the stretch.
When Bieber spoke to his team about ‘legacy’ at the start of preseason, a Giant Center finish and a PIAA championship trophy could have only been in his imagination.
“The first day of practice I said to them, ‘What legacy do you want to leave as an individual? And what legacy do you want to leave for the program?’ Bieber said. “And this is what they did.”
When it comes to Kapp, it’s a legacy that will forever be hard to match.
Follow Austin Hertzog on Twitter @AustinHertzog or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org