River Hill senior forward Vicki Rowe didn’t mind the battle scars. The bloody scratch in the middle of her forehead didn’t even hurt anymore.
After the Hawks claimed a dominating 50-27 victory over Howard on Friday night, the euphoria of winning the Class 3A East regional championship for the second straight year made all the pain go away.
“It was absolutely worth it,” Rowe said. “I’ll take a couple of scratches. I can take a nice bath tomorrow. It’s so worth it.”
River Hill improved to 21-3 on the season and will face 3A South champion Friendly, a 61-28 winner over Westlake, in the state semifinals at UMBC Mar. 7. The Hawks are no strangers to that big stage after advancing to the finals last season before falling to Aberdeen.
“We know the feeling of getting to states and losing. That was probably the worst feeling ever,” Rowe said. “I really don’t want to repeat that. As a senior, I don’t have a next year so the team has to finish our business.”
Junior Julia Collins had a double-double, tallying a game-high 16 points and 13 rebounds. Rowe added 11 points and eight boards while senior Megan Sterling added 10 points.
The point of emphasis for River Hill was defending their home court. The Hawks finished the year unbeaten in the Clarksville gym with a perfect 13-0 mark. Chants of “our house” rang from their bench after the game ended.
“We always prided ourselves on protecting our house,” Sterling said. “We never want to lose here at home. We have to keep the legacy going because there have been so many great teams that have played here.”
The Lions jumped on the scoreboard first when sophomore Jayda Gilmore drained a 3-pointer two minutes into first quarter. After that, however, the offense belonged to River Hill.
The regular season county champions ended the opening quarter with a 13-7 advantage thanks to a 3-pointer by Sterling, and then opened the lead to 22-12 at halftime.
“My kids showed a lot of class and intensity,” Hawks coach Teresa Waters said. “They played hard for 32 minutes and that’s all I ask them to do. This was a total team effort. There wasn’t one player that did more than the others.”
An 11-2 run to start the third quarter gave the Hawks a 33-14 lead. Julia Collins was the spark plug, beginning the spurt with a layup. She added a pair of foul shots, Jordan Masker hit a jumper, Sterling nailed a 3-pointer and Jenna Collins capped the decisive run with a layup.
River Hill never allowed the Lions to get back into it. Howard struggled shooting from the field all night and didn’t help itself at the foul line, going 7-for-18. To make matters worse, its leading scorers – Gilmore and junior center Sydney Biniak (12 rebounds) – were plagued with foul trouble and played sparing minutes.
Junior Anne Kinsey tried her best to keep the team in the contest with a 15-point effort on an array of drives to the rim, but the game never got closer than 14 points in the fourth quarter.
“River Hill played a great game,” Howard coach Scott Robinson said. “I am proud of my girls. We had a great season with a very young team.”
There was one last thing left for River Hill's five seniors to do before walking off their home floor for the final time – find a ladder and cut the nets down.
"I loved doing it last year and I still love it this year," Sterling said. "It's great. ... We want to finish things (at states) especially for the five of us that are seniors. We want to go out with a bang."
Ho: Biniak 12, Batterton 4, Gilmore 2, Sims 2.
RH: Ju. Collins 13, Rowe 8, Masker 6, Je. Collins 6.
Ho: Biniak 2, Hoesman 1.
RH: Sterling 3, Ju. Collins 1, Hopkins 1, Masker 1.
River Hill 50, Howard 27
Ho (16-3, 21-4): Kinsey 15, Hoesman 4, Gilmore 3, Biniak 3, Sims 2.
RH (18-1, 22-3): Ju. Collins 16, Rowe 11, Sterling 10, Je. Collins 6, Masker 4, Seybold 2, Triplett 1.
Half: 22-12 RH.