The biggest thing separating River Hill from the rest of Howard County's best teams this season is an offense that can strike from anywhere at any time.
The No. 3 Hawks, defending county and state Class 3A champions, have proven finishers who can find the goal.
On Tuesday at No. 8 Marriotts Ridge, the Hawks got perfectly placed goals from junior Alex Hamer and sophomore Jessica Hopkins, and their defense contained the pressing Mustangs in a 2-0 win.
River Hill improved to 6-3 overall and 6-0 in Howard County, while Marriotts Ridge fell to 7-1-1 and 4-1-1 in the league.
Hamer opened the scoring in the game's 23rd minute, onetiming a left-footed shot from 20 yards that found the left corner of the goal. After the Mustangs created plenty of scoring chances, only to see the Hawks' defense answer every challenge, Hopkins put a second-half free kick just inside the near post from 22 yards for the 2-0 lead with 6:47 to play.
The win puts the Hawks in prime position to capture another county crown, with No. 10 Centennial next up Friday.
"We knew this week is our most important one of the regular season, so we needed to come out strong, mark tight, and our defense played really well," Hamer said. On offense, "we've been working a lot on shooting in practice, lots of placement, and I think that helps us a lot because it translates into games."
After the Hawks went 19-0 last season and brought back most of their starters, there were questions about whether any Howard County rival would be able to stay with them. While the Mustangs didn't win, they showed they belonged. Samantha Price, Taylor Hensh and Alexis Zadjura were the team's top scoring threats Tuesday, but the Hawks' defense, led by sweeper Rebecca Higgins, contested almost every shot. River Hill's Julia Caine was strong in goal, finishing with 10 saves.
"I told the girls I couldn't be more proud of the way we played. I was very pleased with the level of play, particularly in the second half, when I thought we outplayed them. We were making nice runs, but we just couldn't put the ball in," Marriotts Ridge coach Robin Grey said. "It's a loss, but moving forward, I can't ask for more."
3 River Hill 2, 8 Marriotts Ridge 0
Goals: RH – Hamer, Hopkins
Saves: RH – Caine 10; MR – Bergquist 5.
Half: RH, 1-0Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun