Like most opposing teams do, Reservoir came into Wednesday’s 3A East Region II final keying in on stopping River Hill’s leading trio of Saniha Jackson, Kennedy Clark and Anhyia Smith. And, for the most part, the Gators succeeded in limiting the production of those three.
What that game plan did not account for, however, was the sophomore duo of Caroline Duffy and Erin Devine.
Duffy poured in a career-high 14 points to go along with 16 rebounds, while Devine provided a spark early with six points in the first quarter and River Hill grabbed an early lead and never let go en route to a 59-47 victory and the program’s second straight region championship.
“The production of those two is absolutely crucial to our success, that’s no secret. We know teams are going to be focusing in on those three, so Erin and Caroline become the determining factor for us on both ends of the court,” River Hill coach Teresa Waters said. “Erin hit a couple open shots early before getting in foul trouble and then, as they were double-teaming Saniha down low, Caroline stepped up.”
River Hill (20-4) jumped out to a 14-9 lead by the end of the first quarter and then extended that advantage to double digits early in the second, with Duffy and Devine doing the heavy lifting — combining for 11 of the Hawks’ first 16 points.
“I look at it as a great opportunity when they focus in on those other players,” said Duffy, who posted her second straight game in double figures scoring for the first time all winter. “I feel like my role is to usually try and create opportunities for them, but when those double-teams or traps come I need to be ready and it’s a great feeling to know that I can make a difference. I’ve watched Kennedy, Anhyia and Saniha do amazing things throughout the season, so I’m just happy to do my part.”
For all the contributions from the supporting cast, the ‘big three’ certainly did their part as well. Smith finished with a team-high 15 points, while Clark and Jackson chipped in with 11 apiece.
The Hawks’ balanced production helped offset a special effort by Reservoir (16-8) senior Tiffany Hooker, who scored a game-high 27 points.
The Gators were able to hang around for much of the first period, but a 13-2 run to open the second quarter by the Hawks created separation. Clark then put an exclamation point on the first half for River Hill with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that made it 34-17 at the break.
“Their size really bothered us … particularly with the way they were able to deflect passes and cut off Tiff when she was driving,” Reservoir coach Deb Taylor said. “We just struggled to score consistently and that put pressure on our defense, which I was relatively pleased with. We limited their big three fairly well, but then of course [Caroline] stepped up and made a difference.”
The lead for River Hill swelled to as many as 23 points early in the fourth quarter, but Reservoir never hung its collective heads. In fact, the Gators cut their deficit to 11 points, 56-45, with just over a minute left following an old-fashioned three-point play from Maddy Davis (15 points).
“Out of desperation, we went to an offense where we would drive, kick and take quick threes … and to Tiff and Maddy’s credit they hit some really big shots. We certainly weren’t going to go out being passive,” Taylor said. “It’s just not something you can do for a prolonged period, though, and by that point the hole was just a little too big.”
For as valiant as the comeback attempt was, River Hill ended up icing the game with a few late free throws. The Hawks, the defending 2A state champions, secured a second-straight region title for the third time in program history.
While the team did celebrate with the region championship plaque, Waters was quick to turn her attention to what’s next. Under the re-seeded format for the 3A classification’s eight region winners, River Hill is the sixth seed and will face third-seeded Poly on the road Friday in the state quarterfinals.
Poly has made the state final four in 3A each of the last two seasons, losing in the semifinals in 2018 and in the finals last winter.
“I’m happy for them, especially our five seniors who have all been a part of the program in some capacity for four years, but honestly we can’t celebrate for too long. It’s still one game, one day at a time at this point and it doesn’t get any easier,” Waters said.
River Hill 59, Reservoir 47
RH (20-4): Smith 15, Duffy 14, Clark 11, Jackson 11, Devine 6, Thompson 2.
Re (16-8): Hooker 27, Davis 15, Abunassar 3, Dudzinski 2.
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Half: 34-17 RH.