It took a goal in stoppage time at the end of regulation and seven penalty kicks, but River Hill finally got itself redemption Friday night.
Up against a Reservoir team that had handed them their only loss this fall and had eliminated them from last year’s playoffs, the Hawks prevailed, 6-5, in PKs to advance to the 3A East regional finals next week against Mt. Hebron.
“This one was completely personal,” said River Hill’s Mike Heitzmann, who scored the goal that tied the game 2-2 at the end of the second half. “Our last two losses as a program are both to Reservoir, so this game meant everything to us. We were hoping we would see them in the playoffs, we did, and we made it count.”
Both teams missed one of their first five attempts during penalty kicks, which sent things to sudden death. After traded conversions, River Hill’s Jakob Kelly scored and Reservoir’s Stephen Bork missed to secure the game for the Hawks.
“We’ve been practicing penalty kicks all week and I didn’t miss any so I knew I was going to make that one,” Kelly said. “I just knew I had to make mine to keep us in it and after I did, everything kind of just went our way.”
The victory for River Hill (15-1) came after a game in which Reservoir (11-3-2) had dominated possession for long stretches.
The Gators were particularly aggressive early, generating six corner kicks and outshooting the Hawks 9-3 in the opening 40 minutes. But despite Reservoir controlling the run of play, the score remained tied 0-0 through halftime.
“I was very pleased to be tied because, honestly, we didn’t deserve to be,” River Hill coach Matt Shagogue said. “They had really, really good chances. I thought we were going to be prepared with a lot of energy, but man they just overwhelmed us. We just had no answer and yet somehow we found ourselves in a scoreless game.”
River Hill regrouped during intermission and actually was the one to strike first out of the break.
In the 45th minute, Zach Riso played a perfect through ball to Chris Lee, who hit a hard shot that glanced off Reservoir goalie Kyle Kroll’s hands and into the back of the net to put the Hawks ahead, 1-0.
Just nine minutes later, though, Reservoir struck back to tie things up on a goal by Kyle Saunderson.
“We finally got one, but by then we really should have been up two or three goals,” Reservoir coach Reg Hahne said. “We let them hang around too long and by the time we started putting the ball in the net, they had their legs under them.”
The give and take continued into the final 10 minutes, with Reservoir taking its first lead of the game on a rocket-shot by Michael Peprah from outside the box that made it 2-1. Then, in stoppage time, River Hill dug down and found an answer on Heitzmann’s goal that ultimately sent the game into overtime.
After a pair of scoreless 10-minute extra periods, things went to PKs.
Reservoir made its first four attempts, while River Hill had its third try stopped by Kroll diving to his right. That meant that, even though the Hawks made their fourth and fifth kicks, Reservoir captain Emilio Rodas walked to the line with a chance to seal the game.
His shot, however, sailed high.
“We thought it was going to be over when Emilio went up … he hasn't missed one all year,” Hahne said. “He just missed it. Right over the goal, not like him at all.”
River Hill then converted its next two attempts and ended up celebrating following Reservoir’s second miss.
“There’s a lot of luck that goes into winning when you get into the playoffs,” Shagogue said. “This is the only game in the world where you can be outplayed for long stretches and still win the game. And, you know what, our kids deserve a lot of credit for the way they battled.
“They left everything they had out on this field tonight.”