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River Hill boys soccer wins second straight 3A East region title in penalty kicks

There was an eerie sense of déjà vu as River Hills players rushed to the far side of the field and swarmed goalie Tomas Potts at the end of Mondays 3A East regional championship game.

For the second straight year with a berth in the state semis on the line, River Hill and Mt. Hebron needed penalty kicks to determine a winner. And for the second straight year, it was the Hawks that prevailed.

River Hills fifth kicker in penalties — Jakob Kelly delivered the clinching shot into the right corner and then Mt. Hebrons ensuing attempt hit the crossbar, giving the Hawks a 4-3 shootout victory and a 3-2 win overall.

In our pregame, we actually talked about how there is a lot of luck that goes into winning, balls bouncing the right way and this and that. And there were definitely spurts tonight where it didn't look like it was our night, River Hill coach Matt Shagogue said. Our legs were heavy, we were getting overwhelmed at times and we were on our heels but, I tell you what, somehow these guys found a way.

Regulation, overtime or penalty kicks these guys, they just always find a way.

The victory marked not only the the second straight year River Hill (16-0-1) has won the region title in a shootout, but also the second straight game this postseason the team has won in that fashion. The Hawks beat Reservoir in the region semis, 1-0 (6-5), also in penalty kicks.

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Kelly says theres a comfort level in the do-or-die format at this point.

We practice PKs every day and everyone just believes in one another, said Kelly, who was joined by Luke Turney, Gabe Quintero and Mike Heitzmann in making their penalty kicks for River Hill. Everyone that is going up there, theyre ready for it and they know the pressure. We just believe we are going to pull it out.

On the other side, Mt. Hebron (13-2-2) players lay on the ground in disbelief as the decision marked the third straight year the team has been eliminated from the playoffs in penalty kicks.

I have no idea what to say really nothing you can do about that. River Hill played well, it was a good game and it's just an awful way to end, Mt. Hebron coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. We have a great senior class and I just feel real bad for the kids. I m really going to miss this group of seniors.

Mt. Hebron had gotten a save from goalie Matt Murphy and conversions from Tomas Hedges, Lucas Oh and Brian ONeal during penalty kicks. In the end, it just wasnt quite enough.

There was plenty of excitement leading up to the final frenzy.

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River Hill grabbed the lead late in the first half after a hard shot by Heitzmann was stopped by Murphy (7 saves), only to have the rebound finished by Chris Lee for a 1-0 Hawks advantage.

I thought that with them not really having played a truly big game in a few weeks, 8-0 and 4-0 wins in the playoffs, we could maybe jump on them early. And we did, we were really dictating play, Shagogue said. We got that goal and I thought we had a couple other close ones that could have even made it 2-0.

The game went to halftime, though, still 1-0 in favor of the Hawks. Then, almost immediately after intermission, the momentum turned.

Mt. Hebron began pushing forward and, less than nine minutes out of halftime, tied the game on a hard shot from the top corner of the box by Michael Yacynych.

Nine minutes later, in the 58th minute, the Vikings grabbed the lead when Johnny Linsenmeyer flicked a ball to Brady Burman-Magday, who finished into the right corner.

We actually didn't change anything the whole game, we just kept grinding and playing our game and we managed to get a couple goals early in the (second) half, Linsenmeyer said.

But, just like they have all season, the Hawks had an answer.

With 13:21 left in regulation, Ben Peters pounced on a loose ball in the box and finished to tie the score at 2-2.

The rest of the way, it was the Potts show. In the final five minutes of regulation, the junior goalie made three diving saves to keep the game tied.

Those were honestly three of the best saves, considering the situation, that I have ever seen. And it was just one after the next, said Shagogue.

Later, in the final minute of the first overtime period, Potts (11 total saves) made back-to-back lunging stops of the spectacular variety to again keep the game deadlocked.

I think after the first save I was just kind of locked into the zone, Potts said. I felt amazing that was probably the best stretch Ive ever had in my goalkeeping career.

In the final minute of the second overtime, River Hill thought it had won the game when Addison Testoff converted into the corner of the net. But, after the celebration had begun, the play was whistled back for an off-side violation.

Ultimately, it only delayed the moment, as roughly 10 minutes later the Hawks were storming the field for real.

The 3A East state semifinals will be held on Saturday at CCBC-Essex. The exact time of the game, along with River Hills opponent, is yet to be determined.  

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