Freshman goalkeeper Caroline Duffy talks after the Hawks' 2-0 win over the Gators on Oct. 18, 2018. (Kyle Stackpole / BSMG)
HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Brian Song has coached River Hill girls soccer for 14 years, and he’s never had a scoring defense as dominant as the one that has taken the field this season.
Entering their regular season finale at Reservoir, the Hawks had allowed two shots to cross the goal line over 12 games. Centennial is the only county squad with a goal against them.
Thursday’s tilt with the Gators featured more of the same excellence from the Hawks’ veteran backline and their talented freshman goalkeeper Caroline Duffy, who did her part by making eight saves. The result was yet another shutout, their 11th this fall, and capped the program’s second straight undefeated county season.
“I’ve got to give credit to not just Caroline but also the back four,” Song said after the 2-0 win.
River Hill (10-0-0 county, 12-1-0 overall) again rolled out a new lineup combination on Thursday, though it more out of necessity than experimentation.
Sophomore Samantha Smedley, who usually plays stopper, missed the game because of an illness, prompting Song to insert junior Jamie Caine in that position for the first time in her career. Song said she did a “great job” joining forces with Jules Grasso, Ashlee Hamer and Sophia Elguera to limit a Reservoir attack that produced one shot on goal in the first half.
The Hawks pushed forward from the opening whistle but produced two shots — one from Brigette Wang and the other from Danielle Poindexter — in the opening 20 minutes. Their attempts, while hit with good velocity, lacked precision and therefore sailed straight to goalkeeper Lizzie Dudzinski.
But in the 28th minute, off a failed Gators’ clear, freshman Allison Radcliffe showed her veteran teammates the strike needed to beat a quality keeper. She blasted a shot from the left wing that wizzed well over the outstretched arms of Dudzinski and pierced the back netting with the type of authority often seen on attempts from Reservoir strikers Karis Turner and Katherin Parris. In emphatic fashion, River Hill held a 1-0 advantage.
The second goal was far less impressive but counted all the same, and it came off the foot of Wang just a few minutes later. As she dribbled the ball directly towards the left post, three Reservoir defenders and Dudzinski charged her, leaving an opening in front of net. Wang then slid a pass between Gators to Poindexter, who made just enough contact with the ball to send a slow roller towards the net that Wang tracked down to easily put away.
Ranker blamed the goal on his team being too aggressive around its own net. It’s something the Gators have struggled with in recent matches, Ranker said, and must correct if they want to make a deep postseason run. Fortunately, Ranker saw marked improvement in that area throughout Thursday’s second half.
The Gators (6-3-1, 9-3-2) spent much of the final frame on the offensive, putting shot after shot on goal and challenging Duffy from multiple angles. However, none of their attempts were successful. Duffy, who Song believes is the best goalkeeper in Howard County, proved once again to be an impenetrable wall. And the Hawks again held their opponent scoreless.
“Our defense, we have each other’s backs,” Duffy said. “If I make a mistake, they are going to help and clean it up. And if they make a mistake, I’m always there for them. Just protecting each other is how we’ve been able to keep our shutout.”
Fresh off its second straight county title, River Hill will have about a week off before beginning its quest for a fourth straight state championship. Song said the biggest priority for the Hawks is to stay healthy. He understands how much this group, especially his five seniors, wants to end their high school careers as champions, so now it’s just a matter of getting back to full strength.
Like River Hill, Reservoir will also be the No. 1 seed in its respective section and likes its chances to extend its season by a few more weeks. For the Gators, it’s about limiting game-changing defensive mistakes and converting on what will likely be an abundance of scoring opportunities.
River Hill (10-0-0, 12-1-0) — 2, Reservoir (6-3-1, 9-3-2) – 0