River Hill's Sophia Elguera and Jamie Caine talk after the Hawks' 2-1 win over Calvert in the 2A South region final on Nov. 5, 2018.
HOWARD COUNTY, MD — River Hill girls soccer coach Brian Song was blunt with his team when discussing its offensive strategy entering the playoffs. Unless senior forward Brigette Wang scores on a fast break, the Hawks’ goals will likely come off set pieces, like a corner kick or a long direct kick from Danielle Poindexter.
Thursday’s sectional final win over Wilde Lake illustrated Song’s point, as River Hill scored its opening goal off a run from Wang and its second strike off a corner kick that bounced around the box.
And four days later, his sentiment would hold true once again.
River Hill defeated Calvert, 2-1, in the 2A South region final thanks to two successful set pieces, one to open the scoring in the 29th minute and the second to give the Hawks (15-1-0) a much-needed insurance goal early in the second half. It was the only offensive production Song’s team would need to secure the program’s 15th regional championship and sixth in the past seven years.
“What they’re good at is that they pounce on free kicks,” Calvert coach John Baker said. “They score many, many goals all season long because they’re hungry on free kicks. I think we generated a lot more opportunities, and we just didn’t take advantage of it.”
The win ensures the Hawks a spot in Saturday’s 2A state semifinals, where the two-time defending state champions will host either Hereford or Crossland.
“We all know when we take corners or free kicks that Dani [Poindexter] takes or I take, that we all go 100 percent in,” said Sophia Elguera, who scored the second goal moments after serving a free kick into the box. “These are some of our stronger plays, and so we all just go for the ball and try to kick it in.”
The Hawks’ first goal, meanwhile, came from junior midfielder Jamie Caine off a corner kick. Elguera boomed a curling cross into the box that trickled off a Calvert defender and found freshman Allison Radcliffe near the top-center of the box. The Cavaliers blocked her attempt, but the ball deflected right to Caine, who quickly sent her shot over the head of goalkeeper Kalli Williams (11 saves) and into the back of the net.
It marked Caine’s fourth goal of the season — the first in which she did not use her head — and was just what the Hawks needed to overcome a late penalty kick and advance to the state semifinals.
“We’re good at 50/50 balls and winning balls in the air,” Caine said. “So, when we have that chance, we [capitalize on it]."
River Hill was again forced to tinker with their lineup Monday night with Sam Smedley sidelined with concussion symptoms, something Song said slightly contributed to its slow start. But overall, Song admitted Calvert flat out outplayed his team in the opening 10 minutes. The Cavaliers relentlessly pushed forward, using a speed and pace that Elguera said the Hawks were initially unprepared for. Two shots went just wide during the first seven minutes. A third bounced off goalkeeper Caroline Duffy and then an offensive player before dribbling across the goal line. It appeared Calvert had jumped ahead.
However, the referees negated the score, claiming the Cavaliers player used her hand to knock the ball into the net.
The Hawks eventually adjusted to their opponent’s quickness, Elguera said, and began successfully marking the Cavaliers’ key players to limit an offense that looked capable of scoring multiple goals before intermission. These developments also allowed the Hawks to be more aggressive on offense, and it led to Caine’s goal with about 11 minutes to play before intermission.
Calvert immediately challenged Duffy to start the second half, but the freshman phenom was up for the challenge by making a diving save, one of six on the night. And by the time the Cavaliers put another shot on goal, they faced a two-goal deficit.
About 11 minutes had passed in the second half when the Hawks earned a free kick at the 5-yard-line near the right corner. Elguera again drilled a cross into the box that bounced off the turf once before Chelsea Baker headed it towards the middle. Adriana Zakel wound up for a shot but slipped, which sent the ball squirming back out to Elguera for a shot on net. Williams got her gloves on the strike but could not prevent the Hawks’ from doubling their advantage.
Elguera’s goal proved even more crucial when, with about 12 minutes to play, Calvert earned a penalty kick because of a Hawks’ hand ball in their own box. Duffy guessed correctly yet was overmatched by a perfectly placed rocket from Claire Williams. However, that’s as close as the Cavaliers would get.
Song said this year’s region title is slightly more enjoyable because the public did not anticipate it. With River Hill losing two All-State players and three All-County selections, Song heard rumblings that his Hawks could not match what they had done the past two years and five of the last six: win a state championship. Song simply encouraged his team to “prove them wrong.”
Sixteen games later, the Hawks have lost just once and show little sign of slowing down.
“This one feels good,” Elguera said. “We worked really, really hard this season. We lost a couple of our key players last year, so this season, we’ve been able to work really, really hard with the new players. And to still … beat all of these really good teams just feels really good.”