With four minutes left in the first half yesterday, River Hill's Maria Masciantonio was trying to clear a Mount Hebron corner kick when she inadvertently touched the ball with her hand in the penalty box. Masciantonio received a yellow card and the host Vikings received a penalty kick, but Julie Napolitano's shot missed to the left.
After a scoreless regulation, Masciantonio found herself in the same area of the penalty box a minute into overtime. This time, however, she was on offense. And this time, she used her head.
The 5-foot-2 Masciantonio redirected Megan Buescher's line-drive throw-in at the near post to give the fourth-ranked Hawks a 1-0 Howard County League girls soccer victory over the 11th-ranked Vikings. River Hill (12-1, 7-1) clinched a tie for its third straight county title and can claim it outright with a win Tuesday at Howard (4-8, 1-7).
No one from River Hill was surprised that Masciantonio got the goal off her head.
"She's the shortest [on the team], but she is, by far, the best header," said River Hill's Shannon Jackson.
"She positions herself very well," said River Hill coach Joan Kelso Smedley. "She's one of our smartest players."
Masciantonio, who scored the game-winner off the left side of her head, had a good feeling as Buescher lined up her throw.
"I knew I could get this one because there was no [defender] there. It was so open," said Masciantonio, who has scored four header goals this season.
Masciantonio's goal, 52 seconds into overtime, was a quick end to what had been a hard-fought and entertaining game. The Hawks controlled much of the contest, outshooting their hosts, 19-4. But Mount Hebron's defense, led by Katie Elliott, Annie Collins, Amy Shilling and Jennifer Hazle, was solid, and goalie Kim Rekart was more so.
"She was amazing," said Kelso. "She had some picture-perfect saves."
Napolitano, a center midfielder, and forward Julie Broden created some Mount Hebron scoring chances in the first half. But Napolitano went out of the game 15 minutes into the second half with a left knee injury and never returned.
"You could tell we missed Julie in the middle," said Mount Hebron coach Jonathan Davis.
With Elliott, last year's top scorer in the county, playing sweeper to solidify the defense, Mount Hebron (9-3-1, 6-2) didn't have much of an attack.
Said Elliott, "Our midfielders were playing more defensive."
Both teams played hard and challenged every ball.
"Everyone we put in did what we asked," said Davis. "They didn't quit."
The same was true of River Hill, which, according to Jackson, had an extra incentive.
"Last year they beat us in the county, and we really wanted to get them back," Jackson said.