In a game between the county’s two best teams that included pinpoint passing, sound defense, game-saving stops and physicality and intensity all over the field, Thursday’s playoff clash between River Hill and Wilde Lake girls soccer ultimately came down to a pair of fortuitous bounces, one benefiting each side, about a second apart.
Almost midway through the second overtime, with the Hawks and Wildecats knotted at one in the 2A South, Section I final, Hawks junior midfielder Jamie Caine found herself with a point-blank shot from inside the goal area with the goalkeeper out of position. Her chip was nearly perfect; well over the head of diving goalie Jenna Hutchison and placed where no other Wildecats defender could reach it. But before the ball could pierce the top netting, it encountered a different obstacle: the top crossbar.
Just for a moment, the crossbar had saved Wilde Lake’s season. But almost just as quickly, the bounce off the crossbar sealed the Wildecats’ tragic fate.
With everyone scrambling, either to attempt a clear or a rebound, Hawks senior forward Brigette Wang, one of the county’s best scorers, stood still on the left side of the goal area. The ball landed right in front of her with no one in her way.
“From there, it was really just instincts,” Wang said with a smile after the Hawks’ 2-1 double-overtime triumph. “I just hit it in the goal.”
One of the simplest goals Wang has scored this season sends two-time defending state champion River Hill (14-1) to the 2A South region final, where it will host Calvert on Monday night.
“It could have gone either way,” Hawks coach Brian Song said. “That’s just the way the ball bounced today.”
Both teams nearly scored the go-ahead goal towards the end of the second half and in both overtimes. There was the bending corner kick that began the game-winning scoring sequence that, if not for freshman Ashlyn Bonner standing at the left post, would have ended the game with 5 minutes, 45 seconds left in the second overtime. There was the long throw-in minutes earlier during which Hutchison and a Hawks player endured a nasty collision that sent the ball scurrying away.
Looking back even earlier, during the final eight minutes of regulation, Wilde Lake (12-2-1) produced four corners and forced freshman goalkeeper Caroline Duffy to make four saves, the last of which was a sliding stop off a laser from midfielder Lily Dunbar. Two more shots on target came Duffy’s way during the first extra-time period.
In a fast-paced, back-and-forth affair, Wilde Lake had better success consistently pushing forward and created a plethora of decent scoring chances because of it. While Hutchison was counted on to make six saves, Duffy was forced to make 15. The Wildecats just could not get a second goal by a Hawks’ defense that allowed two goals the entire regular season.
“I told them that we were the better team tonight. One-hundred percent, we were the better team,” Wildecats coach Megan Shea said. “I told them that it was unfortunate that we didn’t end up being rewarded for being the better team tonight.”
Wilde Lake immediately jumped on the county champions on Thursday night after being shutout in their regular season meeting. Aicha Wilson converted a putback off an initial attempt from Jillian Ingram less than four minutes into the match, putting the Hawks in a very unfamiliar position of having to play from behind.
However, Wang said the early deficit did not bother a program in search of its sixth state title in seven years. The Hawks simply regrouped, and despite putting just one shot on target in the opening period, went into halftime all knotted up. This strike also came from Wang, who received a pass from Erin Regan, ran down the right side and beat Hutchison with a hard grounder into the back-left corner of the net.
Wang nearly scored the game-winning goal in the first overtime period off a run right down the center of the field. Facing a one-on-one opportunity with Hutchison, she chose to direct her shot to Hutchison’s left. Hutchison guessed right, extending the game with a diving save.
However, Hutchison was in no position to challenge Wang with 5 minutes 39 seconds to play in the final overtime frame. The ball just bounced River Hill’s way.
2A South, Section I final:
River Hill (14-1-0) — 2, Wilde Lake (12-2-1) — 1 (2OT)
Goals: RH — Brigette Wang 2; WL — Aicha Wilson.
Assists: RH — Erin Regan.
Saves: RH — Caroline Duffy 15; WL — Jenna Hutchison 6.
Around the county:
3A East, Section I final:
Mt. Hebron (8-6-1) — 2; Atholton (6-6-2) — 1
Goals: MH — Alex Masse, Riley Benson; A — Mary Kate Gelak.
Assists: MH — Ana Hoover, Jessie Barke.
Saves: MH — Ainsley Sowers 8; A — Dahlia Bedward 3.