The five seniors on River Hill’s roster were honored before Thursday’s contest against Long Reach with nice speeches, gifts and even sparkling tiaras.
But after the 15-minute ceremony concluded, the Hawks had a tough time getting into the swing of the game. The Lightning held an early lead before the Hawks settled in and earned a comfortable 46-24 victory.
“It was just so great what the underclassmen did for us. We were focused on that and then we had to switch our mindset to focus on the game,” River Hill senior Meg Sterling said. “It took a while to get into it but we finally did.”
Sterling led the way for the Hawks (16-1, 17-3) with 15 points, including 11 in the second half, while senior Vicki Rowe and junior Julia Collins added 10 each. Senior guard Olivia Callan finished with a team-high 11 points for Long Reach (6-11, 8-12).
“Senior night is really important for us because we love our underclassman, and it was nice of them to show that love back,” Rowe said. “We want to go out and set a good example for them. We can’t come out flat, so we have to set that example of being intense from the get-go.”
The Lightning held a 9-3 advantage midway through the first quarter and after a drive to the rim by Alana Ratliffe at the 3:05 mark of the second, they led 16-14.
That was the final lead for Long Reach, however, as River Hill turned it on at both ends of the floor.
Jenna Collins drained a 3-pointer – assisted by twin sister Julia – to give the Hawks a lead. Rowe followed with two free throws and Julia Collins – this time assisted by Jenna – nailed a 3-pointer of her own to give the Hawks a 22-16 halftime lead.
The intermission couldn’t cool down River Hill, which forced the Lightning into six straight turnovers to start the second half. Before Long Reach could convert its first field goal of the third quarter, with 1:06 on the clock, Rowe and Sterling combined for three buckets to make it 28-16.
“We like to play in-your-face, floor-slapping defense,” Sterling said. “So we pressured them, got out on the break and did our thing.”
The Lightning struggled with the full-court pressure, turning the ball over 17 times over the final 16 minutes of the game. River Hill doubled Imani Sanders, Long Reach's best ball-handler, on the inbound, forcing them to make toughers passes.
“We’re trying to get two good halves in. We played well in the first half the last time we played them,” Long Reach coach Kelli Cofield said. “The same thing happened in this one. We don’t come out (of halftime) the same way we open games. We have three or four turnovers to start the second half and that sets the tempo.”
The River Hill senior class, which includes Andrea Nichols, Jordan Masker and Tyler Triplett, have created plenty of memories throughout their careers, but they are ready to make at least one more.
The Hawks are two wins away from claiming the county championship – their first since the 2009-10 season.
“We want this really, really bad,” Rowe said. “We’re going to continue to work hard in practice and be mentally prepared to finish the season strong.”
LR: Engelbrecht 6, Peterson 3, Callan 3, Ratliffe 3.
RH: Ju. Collins 7, Masker 4, Nichols 3, Je. Collins 3.