ROYERSFORD >> Boyertown’s Abby Kapp knew the shot was in the moment it left her fingertips.
It was a beauty of a basket — the game-winner, of course — and the last ride for an awesome Cardinal O’Hara team that was a heavy favorite to return to Hershey’s Giant Center for a second straight season.
And yet, every once in a while, there’s a team that comes along and rewrites the script. It was District 1’s sixth-place finisher, one of 11 teams from the district to qualify for states, that gave O’Hara the fight of its life and proved deserving of a spot in Friday’s state final game against North Allegheny.
Abby Kapp hits the go-ahead basket. 1.1 seconds left. 39-37 Boyertown. pic.twitter.com/wdZbC882Et
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) March 21, 2017
In the end, it was all about Abby Kapp, the best player on the floor Monday night at Spring-Ford High. Kapp’s 15-foot jumper sailed over the reach of Mary Sheehan and was deposited for the deciding two points in Boyertown’s stunning 39-37 defeat of O’Hara in the PIAA Class 6A state semifinal.
The game clock expired, and teammates rushed on the floor to congratulate Kapp, but officials put 1.1 seconds back on the scoreboard. Alas, O’Hara’s desperate, full-court heave as time expired didn’t come close to falling in.
So seniors Sheehan and Hannah Nihill, and juniors Maura Hendrixson, Kenzie Gardler and Molly Paolino, who have
started together for the last three seasons, will never play together again. The dream season is over. The team that was supposed to get back never did.
Boyertown took it all away.
“I had a good feeling it was going in,” Kapp said. “I felt good — it felt good — and it just went in for me. I’m so happy that it did.”
On the other side of the gymnasium floor, greeted by fans and family one final time in her scholastic career, Sheehan put into words what happened on that final play. She played textbook defense on the uber-athletic and rangy Kapp, who at 6-foot-0, holds roughly an inch on Sheehan.
Sheehan thought she could have done something differently, but she probably couldn’t have played better defense without risking a foul. Sometimes, good players make big shots, and that’s precisely what Kapp did.
“It’s hard to stop a good player when somebody has that momentum and they’re on a roll like that,” said Sheehan, who was 7-for-12 from the floor with team highs in points (15) and rebounds (seven). “You know, it’s even harder to stop them. You could just tell that she had that look in her eyes that every single shot she took was going in. Every time the ball went up, you kind of held your breath.
“On that last shot, I think we had three people on her when she actually took it. For myself, I don’t know, I thought that maybe I could have reached further. It was just a really good shot. Her teammates played well, too. They orchestrated some things for her, got her the ball in good spots. They hit a lot of shots and it was impressive. Credit to them because they played a heck of a game.”
A game the Lions (24-6) would admit, slipped out of their hands. For most of regulation, they held steady but never showed signs of pulling away. That’s because Boyertown’s man-defense was too stable to allow that to happen.
O’Hara had leads as large as five in the first half and four in the second. But it wasn’t safe. Boyertown’s biggest lead of the night was two points on several occasions, and O’Hara found itself trailing by a single point at halftime, thanks in large part to a paltry 8-for-23 shooting from the field. The Bears, meanwhile, were more economical with their shot selection in the first half (8-for-15).
Ultimately, the Lions were plagued by poor outside shooting. Only Maura Hendrixson, arguably the top 3-point shooter in Delco, proved to be a threat from long distance. Hendrixson canned three treys and finished with 11 points. Unlike Saturday, when O’Hara received double-digit scoring contributions from four players, only Sheehan and Hendrixson reached double figures Monday.
“At halftime, we said we weren’t hitting shots. In the second half, that was going to change,” Sheehan said. “The second half is our half, that sort of thing. The one thing we were changing was, especially for Maura and Kenzie, was to throw in some pump fakes and get to the basket instead of taking some long-distance shots.”
Ultimately, the Lions couldn’t catch a break. Nihill penetrated the lane multiple times, but often came away frustrated. O’Hara shot 3-for-19 from 3-point range, while Boyertown was 5-for-9. Nihill, the reigning Daily Times Player of the Year, was limited to six points on 3-for-13 shooting.
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) March 21, 2017
Hendrixson’s lone triple in the second half gave O’Hara a 30-26 lead late in the third quarter. On Boyertown’s next possession, Alli Marcus drilled a long ball to cut that deficit to one.
The Bears never went away, nor believed they were out of the game.
“I won’t say that we keep surprising ourselves,” Kapp said. “We always believed we could be a good team.”
In the fourth quarter, the teams exchanged two-point leads. Kapp made a spin move inside the paint and scored two points to give Boyertown a 35-33 lead. Sheehan came back with an easy bucket underneath to tie it at 35-all with a 1:45 to play. Allison Marcus banked two free throws to put Boyertown back in front before Sheehan hit another field goal with 1:13 left.
Then there was controversy. It appeared O’Hara had gained possession when Hendrixson attempted to grab a defensive rebound and was pulled to the floor. An apparent foul on Boyertown, the officials determined the ball nicked off Hendrixson and out of bounds. Hendrixson voiced her displeasure. Moments later, Kapp delivered the biggest shot of her life, propelling Boyertown into the state final.
For O’Hara, there’s no sugarcoating how much the loss stings. The Lions can hang their hats on the fact that they defeated a pair of state championship favorites in Neumann-Goretti and Archbishop Wood to capture the Catholic League title for the first time since 2013.
That’s a legacy they’ll be proud to celebrate someday.
“Maybe not today, tomorrow or the day after that,” Sheehan said. “For the rest of my life, I don’t think I’ll remember this loss, I’ll remember winning the Catholic League and everything else we accomplished.
“This was a great run. Right now it kills, but I love O’Hara and I love this team and the coaches.”