It was the game that River Hill had been waiting a year for, and the Hawks weren’t about to let it slip away this time.
River Hill won its 17th straight game by edging Atholton, 2-1, in the 3A East regional championship on Monday, and is now one step closer to the grand prize: a state title.
Michaela Hennessy scored the winning goal by pushing a ball that had eluded several players and was rolling along the goal line in the second half.
This is Hennessy’s second winning goal in as many games. Her shot, off an assist from Alex Hamer, gave River Hill a 1-0 win over Wilde Lake in the regional semifinal last Wednesday.
But Monday's game was about more than just a regional title. The Hawks had some unfinished business. In 2011, Atholton pulled a Halloween trick and beat River Hill in the regional quarterfinals, after the Hawks had already won county and District V championships.
“It was a big upset when we lost last year,” said River Hill striker Sheridan Street, who scored the first goal in Monday's win. “We made it goal for all of us to win this year.”
“I was crying (after the game) because I was so happy,” said River Hill defender Haily Emrick. “We have been waiting all year for redemption. Last year they got to celebrate on our field. This year it was our turn. I’m so excited.”
“Our girls waited a whole year (for this win),” said River Hill coach Brian Song. “Last year, (Atholton) outplayed us hands down, so I knew it would be a tough game. I told the girls they would win by one goal, if they won.”
Street got her 21st goal of the fall in the first few minutes of the game, capitalizing on Hennessy’s hustle.
“Michaela beat a whole bunch of people down the line and crossed it,” said Street.
But with about 20 minutes left in the first half, Atholton started threatening. Katrina Macadoff got loose in the box and went one-on-one with keeper Alli Lloyd, but Colleen McKenna stepped in to help when the ball deflected away, and Rebecca Higgins kicked it out to save a sure goal.
Seconds later, though, Macadoff buried a shot in the back of the net to tie the game.
Macadoff’s 13th goal of the season would be Atholton’s last though.
Hennessy’s second-half goal came on a flurry of shots at the goal mouth. “It was literally on the goal line,” she said. “Alex (Hamer) was there, Sheridan was there. People were kicking at it but it just stayed there” until she finally got the right touch.
The play began at midfield, when Katie Arensmeier drove down the right sideline and passed to Street, who got a shot off. Keeper Sage Mayhew brushed the shot up and off the cross bar, and the ball fell to the goal mouth, waiting for someone to get a foot on it.
“We knew they had Maddio Boccio and Isabelle Kim in the middle, so we tried to go out wide. That’s where our success came from tonight,” said Song.
Atholton, though, tried to keep the ball in the middle.
“We didn’t double team (Street or Hamer), or triple team them. We relied on our fullbacks, who have been playing solid. We were trying to force (River Hill) into trouble, instead of down the line.”
Natalie Chin, Anna Schoonover and Kim led the Raiders’ defense.
For Atholton, which finishes with a 10-5 record, the loss was heartbreaking.
“We’ve had a really good season and we were hoping we could go on,” said Stoutenborough. “This was emotional for all of us. I have nine seniors and I’ve been with most of them” for four years of varsity play.
“I am proud of how my girls never backed down this season,” she added.
The Hawks will play the winner of 3A South finalists Huntingtown and LaPlata in the state semifinals on Saturday at the Community College of Baltimore County — Essex. River Hill is the top seed in the East Region and Huntingtown is No. 1 in the South.