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Walker seals River Hill boys soccer comeback win over Atholton

It took a comeback from down a goal in the final minutes of regulation, along with a game-winning score from Logan Walker in overtime, but River Hill's boys soccer team ultimately found a way Thursday night to keep its undefeated season in tact.

Walker's header that flicked the ball over the hands of Atholton goalie Noah Bathras and into the back of the net in the third minute of overtime secured the Hawks a 2-1 victory over the Raiders and sent the River Hill bench spilling onto the field.

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For a River Hill team (9-0, 12-0) that has continually found ways to win this fall, coach Matt Shagogue said this one was extra special as it showcased the resiliency of his guys.

"This is huge for us and seeing how the guys were afterward — in tears, hugging eachother — that's what you want to see at this point in the season and this is the kind of game that makes you believe," Shagogue said. "Yeah, you can win 2-0 or 3-0, but when you actually have to prove it, earn it and come back with your backs against the wall, that's special.

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"Hopefully this is something that builds us some momentum for the end of the season and playoffs."

River Hill was playing the game against Atholton (4-4-1, 5-5-1) without its leading scorer Mike Heitzmann (11 goals), but the team — particularly Chris Lee, who scored the game-tying goal, and Walker — stepped up and delivered in his absence.

"It's nice because now we've proven to ourselves we can win without him," Walker said. "He's carried us this season, he's been our best player, but we know that we have other guys too and going forward, with him or without him, we're still a very good team."

Neither team scored during the opening 40 minutes Thursday, although River Hill did control the majority of the run of play. The Hawks outshot the Raiders by six, 7-1, with the best of the opportunities coming in the opening two minutes when Luke Turney had a breakaway chance miss just wide right.

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River Hill's attack was back at it to begin the second half, generating three quality scoring chances in the opening five minutes out of intermission. But each time things got dangerous, Atholton's Bathras (10 saves) came off his line and shut things down.

"He is a junior and is just really coming into his own this year … he's the best keeper I've seen this year," DeFrances said. "He keeps us in games, clearly, and today was no different."

With the game still scoreless in the middle stages of the second half, Atholton seized the opportunity. A corner kick from the right side by Nathan Kim found Chris Johnson on the right post and he proceeded to head it home for a 1-0 Raider lead.

"We knew that we weren't going to get a ton of chances most likely, so you know going in that we had to put away the chances we got," Johnson said. "We stayed strong in the back and fought for those one or two quality chances and it really worked out for us there with that goal."

For the longest time, that one-goal advantage seemed like it might hold up. However, in the closing minutes of regulation, the River Hill pressure finally created something tangible.

Streaking down the right wing off a feed from Gianni Gupta, Hawks' senior Chris Lee converted a hard shot off the hands of Bathras into the right side of the net with 2:32 showing on the clock.

"I've been doing this a long time, so I really try my best to be calm and keep telling the guys that we just have to relax and we'll get one," Shagogue said. "We had so many chances that you just had to feel like we were going to make good on one of them at some point. And, we cut it close and it took a deflection there, but we got it and suddenly it was a new ball game."

Tied at 1-1, the game went to overtime. And there, with new life, River Hill completed the comeback.

With just over seven minutes showing on the clock, Gupta played a ball into the box and onto the waiting head of Walker for the golden goal.

"I thought Noah was going to get the ball right off my head, but I flicked it and saw the ball go over his head and everyone started running toward me. It was an amazing feeling," Walker said.

While the result was not what DeFrances and the Raiders were looking for, the coach was extremely pleased with the effort of his guys against a River Hill team they could see again in the playoffs.

"I asked the guys to give me everything they've got and leave it all on the field, and I thought they really did that," he said. "I basically dared them to show that they belong on the same field as those guys heading into the playoffs and I was extremely proud of the response."

River Hill 2, Atholton 1 OT

Goals: RH – Lee, Walker; A – Johnson.

Assists: RH – Gupta 2; A – Kim.

Saves: RH – Potts 2; A – Bathras 10.

Half: 0-0; End of regulation: 1-1.

Other scores:

Glenelg 3, Hammond 1

Mt. Hebron 3, Howard 0

Goals: MH - Cooke 2, Hedges.

Assists: MH - Linsenmeyer, Cooke.

Catonsville 2, Oakland Mills 0

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