After a five-year absence, the River Hill boys soccer program is headed back to the state final four.
In penalty kicks, after 100 minutes of scoreless action Tuesday night, Hawks goalie Tomas Potts came through with a pair of diving stops to help River Hill outlast Mt. Hebron, 5-4, and capture the 3A East region title.
“I went out there thinking that it was on me. For our five seniors and our entire team that was looking at me, it was on me to make a play,” said Potts, who was also in goal just four days earlier when River Hill defeated Reservoir in penalty kicks. “Last game I didn’t guess right once, but their guys missed. This time I wanted to be the one to make a difference.”
With his final stop, a lunge to the right that deflected the shot of Mt. Hebron’s Alec Vaughan wide of the goal, Potts set off a celebration several years in the making. With its region championship victory, setting up a meeting with undefeated Urbana on Saturday, River Hill (16-1) secures a spot in the state semifinals for the first time since 2007.
Two of the team’s seniors — Zach Riso and Jake Turney — had fallen short in two previous regional title games, including in penalty kicks as freshmen.
“This means so much to me, it’s hard to put into words,” said Riso, who kicked off the penalty kicks Tuesday with a conversion into the corner of the net. “This was our last chance and this is probably the best team we’ve had in my four years. To see everyone work as hard as they have and to see it come together … it’s just amazing.”
For the second straight game, River Hill found itself playing defense for the majority of the first half. Yet, just like in the team’s region semifinal match-up against Reservoir, the Hawks were able to emerge from the first 40 minutes locked in a scoreless game.
Potts (8 saves) made several big stops, including punching a hard shot by Mt. Hebron’s Jon Horrocks over the crossbar in the 20th minute.
“We beat them 3-0 during the regular season, but we knew this game was going to be completely different. And it was,” River Hill coach Matt Shagogue said. “They had the more dangerous of the play, we couldn’t sniff the goal, and yet we stayed in it. We kept ourselves in position where we had a chance and, all year, that’s been the mark of this team.”
Both teams had chances to score in the second half, as each defense cleared a ball off the end line during the final 16 minutes of regulation. The score, however, remained 0-0 through the end of the half and two subsequent overtime periods.
In penalty kicks, Mt. Hebron freshman goalie Tory Jones (4 saves) delivered the first big play. His diving stop of a shot by Ben Peters gave the Vikings the upper hand heading into their fourth kicker.
But Potts answered with a save of his own on the very next try by Dan Beatty.
Both teams traded conversions before the decisive sixth shooters, where River Hill’s Luke Turney made his try and then watched Potts step in and seal the deal.
“Their goalie made a couple big plays and that was the difference, it wasn’t like anybody missed,” Mt. Hebron coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. “It’s just a crapshoot and we didn’t come out on the right end of it, but the kids played great. They were terrific and I don't think I would have done anything differently.”
The Hawks now must turn their attention to Urbana, which lost to Reservoir in last year’s championship game in overtime. For at least one night, though, Shagogue says he was going to let his guys enjoy the victory.
“This is huge for us because these (regional championships) just don’t come easy … this is the fifth time I’ve been here to this game since I took over and only the second time we’ve won,” Shagogue said. “We talk about making things special and really bringing the seniors into play … this group has been on the other side and I really feel like they are determined not to go through that again.”
Oakland Mills carried over the momentum from its victory over Marriotts Ridge last Thursday, cruising past visiting Southern, 4-0, to earn a berth in the 2A state semifinals.
The Scorpions got two goals apiece from Hymad N'Diaye and Hans Kouame — each scoring once in each half — to spearhead the offense. The defense, which was led by both Duncan Rheingans-Yoo and Ryan Zovko in goal, did its part as well.
Up next for Oakland Mills is a meeting with Hereford on Saturday at Bel Air High School.