The defending Class 4A state champion South River girls soccer team considers the regular season a primer for the more important games to come.
While the No. 4 Seahawks win often earlier in the year, they see it as a chance to grow and get better in pursuit of the ultimate goal of another state championship.
South River moved one big step closer to that Tuesday at No. 3 Severna Park, getting first-half goals from Olivia Laurenzano and Kristen Castle and fending off the Falcons to come away with a 2-1 win in the East regional title.
The Seahawks (14-3) head back to the state tournament for Saturday's semifinal against West regional champion Whitman. The game will take place at Richard Montgomery, with game time yet to be set.
Getting there was particularly special Tuesday, as coach John Sis won his 100th game with the program and the Seahawks got revenge for the second straight game. After avenging a regular-season loss to Broadneck in the previous round, they used their big-game experience to beat a younger Severna Park side that edged them, 1-0, earlier.
"So two teams that knocked us off, we were able to beat, and the great thing about that is it shows we're improving," Sis said. "Our idea with the program is we want to peak at playoff time, and I think the girls are doing that — I still don't think we've played a complete game — but I'm excited because we're almost there."
South River's experience and Severna Park's youth — underclassmen dominated the Falcons' roster — showed up early.
The Seahawks jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal from Olivia Laurenzano after an impressive string of passes in the seventh minute. Katie Berkowitz started the play, winning a ball at midfield and sending it ahead to Katya Kaplow on the right wing. Kaplow found Kacie Longo, and Laurenzano ran on to a short pass for a goal from 8 yards out.
South River proved opportunistic midway through the first half and took a 2-0 advantage on Kristen Castle's header with 17:15 left after a corner kick from Madison Koenig.
The Falcons pressed late in the half and were rewarded when Lillian Streaker scored to cut the lead to 2-1 with 7:19 before the break, but the Seahawks protected their goal well throughout the second half to advance.
"I think our confidence is at our highest for the season, and winning these games is a huge deal for us," Longo said. "Moving on each time, instead of peaking, we just keep going up and up."
The Falcons, who finished 14-4, pressed for the equalizer in the final minutes, but it didn't come. A free kick from 30 yards was headed at the far post, with Severna Park senior Abby Thomas nearby, but Koenig was able to clear it from danger.