The dynamic duo of senior Alex Hamer and junior Jessica Hopkins has been dominant all season for River Hill.
It was no different on Tuesday night as they each scored to lead the Hawks to a 2-0 win over visiting Wilde Lake and advance to the 3A East region final.
Hopkins, who has been bothered by an injured quad all season, came off the bench in the 24th minute and provided an immediate spark.
In the 36th minute, Victoria Tran found Hopkins at the top of the box. After the ball bounced around between Hopkins and several defenders, Hopkins got behind and placed a slow rolling shot past the pressing Wildecat keeper and into the right corner for her 13th goal of the year.
“Jessie brings so much to the game,” said senior Alex Hamer. “She has this essence about her that she just wants to win and it benefits the entire team. ... It was great that she was able to come in even with her injury to give us the lead. It was awesome.”
River Hill added to its lead early in the second half when Hopkins did what she has done all season: provide an excellent cross from the left side deep across the box. The bouncing ball found Hamer, who riffled a close-rangeshot across goal and into the left side netting.
The assist was the 18th of the season for Hopkins, and Hawks coach Brian Song said “probably 11 or 12 of them have been to Alex.”
“My two star players just continue to finish and set the play for the rest of the players,” Song said. “I think [Jessica] brings energy more than anything else. She lifts everybody up, and that takes a little bit of pressure off of Alex. When Jessie’s not in the game, everyone doubles up on Alex. ... As soon as Jessie comes in the game, they can’t double-team Alex anymore, so now they have to figure out who they’re going to play.”
What opponents realize most when playing River Hill, however, is how well the team plays defense. The Hawks have not allowed a goal in either of their playoff games and now have 10 shutouts on the season.
“It just seemed like whenever we got the ball up top, they had two or three more players than we did,” said Wilde Lake coach Davia Procida. “They’re strong and close in very well, so we can’t get a lot of shots off.”
“My defense — those four girls and my goalie — they trust in each other more than anything else,” Song said.
River Hill will host Centennial, which beat Mt. Hebron 3-1 Thursday night, early next week for a chance to move on to the state semifinals. The two-time defending 3A state champions are hoping to make it a three-peat.
“The ultimate goal is to win states,” Hamer said. “We’re just really excited. We’re all really happy to be here and I’m really looking forward to playing out my last couple of games with the people that I’ve formed such great friendships with.”
For the Wildecats, who upset Atholton on Tuesday, the season came to a disappointing end.
“When we played River Hill earlier in the season it was a really close game,” Procida said. “So our game plan was very similar and I actually think we had more confidence coming into this, it just didn’t go our way.”
Procida said she was proud of how her team fought to the end and how they got better as the season progressed.
“We grew a lot,” she said, adding that after an early season loss to Long Reach, her team “woke up.”
“Each game a couple more players were buying in to what we wanted to do and it showed,” she said. “So seeing the girls everyday in practice and how we’ve grown playing and getting here — a lot of people didn’t even think we were going to make it to this game. So it was exciting."
Howard 1, Sherwood 0 (4A North)
Nia Elbeck scored her 15th and biggest goal of the season in the 2nd minute to lift the Lions to a 1-0 win. Howard, which recorded its fourth straight shutout and fifth of the season, avenged a loss to the Warriors in last year's playoffs. The Lions (10-4) will host Catonsville on Tuesday in the 4A North region final.