River Hill looked far from its usual self during Monday’s 2A South regional championship game against visiting Southern. The Hawks, who average nearly four goals per game, failed to capitalize on numerous scoring chances and even allowed a second-half goal to the Bulldogs, just their seventh goal against in their 16th game of the season.
But even without their A-game, River Hill did enough to defeat the Bulldogs, 2-1, to win the 2A South regional championship for the second straight season.
“It’s one of our goals this year,” Hawks coach Matt Shagogue said. “We’d like to win two more games; that’s really our goal and I really hope we can get it, but you can’t get to the ultimate goal without this one. So I’m happy and the kids are really happy.”
William Amankwa and Justin Harris scored 1 minute, 5 seconds apart late in the first half on assists from Alex Krause for River Hill (15-0-1), which had 13 shots on goal and nine corner kicks but struggled to finish the majority of their scoring chances.
Ryan Fuss scored for the Bulldogs (9-6-3) with 11 minutes remaining on a shot from distance but didn’t muster many scoring chances otherwise against the Hawks’ stout back line and senior goalkeeper Patrick Sherlock (six saves).
It’s the Hawks’ 14th regional championship in program history and second in as many seasons. River Hill, which has won 10 state titles in 12 championship-game appearances, will face either Hereford, which beat defending 2A state champions Eastern Tech, or Patterson in a 2A state semifinal at River Hill on Saturday.
Southern was looking for its first regional title since 1987.
“They absolutely [lived up to the hype] but playing in Anne Arundel County against those 4A schools gets us ready for it,” said Southern coach Brett Blacker. “It was a battle and we gave up a couple of mistakes late in the first half and we we’re battling, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
The Bulldogs played the majority of the first half defending its own zone as River Hill controlled the pace and dominated possession. Junior forward Alex Krause had the biggest impact in the first half and repeatedly had scoring opportunities. The Howard County leader in goals struggled to finish — he even missed a wide-open net inside the box in the second half — but made up for it by feeding others.
He took a short corner kick late in the first half and dribbled past a defender before sending a cross into the box. The ball bounced back to him, and his second pass found the foot of Amankwa, who buried his eighth goal of the season.
Krause followed that up by sending a perfect through ball to Harris a minute later. Harris took one touch and scored his 13th goal on a powerful shot into the right side of goal to put the Hawks up 2-0 with 3:29 remaining in the half.
“Alex was a difference maker,” Shagogue said. “The ball he sent in to Justin was phenomenal.”
River Hill senior Justin Harris talks about the Hawks' 4-0 win over Oakland Mills in a 2A South regional semifinal on Thursday, November 1, 2018. (Tim Schwartz / BSMG video)
Their failure to capitalize on their chances caught up to River Hill in the second half. Like the first half, Southern played the majority of the second on its heels but cut the Hawks’ lead in half on a perfectly placed shot by Fuss, who simply turned and fired a shot past the outstretched arms of Sherlock.
“We just couldn’t finish. You knew the longer it was going to go on maybe they get one and it could change the game,” Shagogue said. “Give Southern a lot of credit. They worked really hard and they never stopped battling. They scored a really good goal and it certainly changed the game.
“They battled and closed the game out. You win a lot of games if you can defend. If you win a lot of games you need some luck to win the further you go.”
Despite the loss, Blacker said it was a season to remember for the Bulldogs. They tied Severna Park, Meade and Arundel for the first time in program history and then followed up with two road playoff victories.
“Those are the powerhouses,” Blacker said. “My guys battled and we have four key seniors who led the squad, and we also have young guys that are coming on. So we’ll be strong next year.”
River Hill (15-0-1) — 2, Southern (9-6-3) — 1
Goals: RH — William Amankwa, Justin Harris; S — Ryan Fuss
Assists: RH — Alex Krause 2; S — None
Saves: RH — Patrick Sherlock 6; S — Coleman Campbell 11