Sparked by the hitting and serving of Shannon Patrick and the net play of Keiko Miller, second-ranked River Hill rallied to defeat Frederick County's Thomas Johnson, 15-5, 11-15, 13-15, 15-3, 15-4 in a Class 3A state semifinal match last night at CCBC-Essex.
The Hawks (18-2) will play Northern (18-0), a 15-2, 15-2, 15-2 winner over Bel Air, 7: 30 p.m. Saturday at CCBC-Catonsville.
Northern defeated River Hill, 15-6, 15-7, 15-9, in the season opener for both teams.
Patrick had eight aces -- six in a 10-point River Hill run that earned it the fourth game -- and 24 kills. She was 24-for-25 serving and had eight blocks.
"She was unstoppable," said River Hill coach Sybil Modispacher.
Miller, a 6-foot-1 junior, had 10 kills and eight blocks.
"Keiko had the match of her life," Modispacher said.
Said Miller: "I felt really pumped up. After a few hits when I put them down and had some blocks, I felt I was going to have a good match."
Setter Sarah Albert had 50 assists and Lisa Humphrey had 16 kills, 11 blocks and four aces.
Down 2 games to 1, Patrick knew something had to change.
"I knew I had to step up my game and get everybody else up, too," Patrick said.
Patrick took over serving with River Hill leading, 5-3 in the fourth game, and never stopped.
"Normally, I'm not that kind of player that comes out and has a huge serving run like that," Patrick said. "I don't have the hardest serve, but I was able to place the ball really well, and that's how I was able to get all the aces."
River Hill began the final game with three straight aces from Humphrey en route to a 7-0 lead and never looked back.
"They have a lot of strong hitters and the big blocker [Miller] in the middle," said Thomas Johnson's Kellyanne Rose. "We didn't pass well. We just didn't play well. But they're a very good team."
Thomas Johnson coach Jim Dorsch said his team's poor passing caused the Patriots (17-2) to hit too many free balls.
"We were always on the defensive," Dorsch said. "They were taking free balls and hitting them hard."
So now River Hill gets another chance at powerful Northern.
"I'm really looking forward to playing Northern," Patrick said. "If we play as a team, I think we'll be able to give them a run."
Northern of Calvert 3, Bel Air 0: Not even a 15-2, 15-2, 15-2 loss to powerhouse Northern of Calvert in the Class 3A state semifinals at CCBC-Essex, could cloud what has been one of the brightest seasons in Bel Air school history.
"Starting out the season 1-4, then winning the rest of our games -- it was a great accomplishment," said Bobcats coach Amy Sexton. "My girls went out there and never gave up, and I'm proud of them."
On this night, however, pride wasn't nearly enough.
The Patriots (18-0), seeking their fifth state championship in six years and sixth in the 1990s, dominated from start to finish. Led by senior Katie Radford (nine kills) and junior Darcey Krug (five), Northern jumped out to big leads in all three games, tying Centennial's 1997 (vs. Loch Raven) state tournament record for fewest points allowed in a match.
Northern totaled 11 aces and made four attack errors -- a minuscule number by any standard.
The outcome was a bit of a surprise to Patriots coach Beth Incrocci, who said she didn't know quite what to expect from a Bobcats team entering the night with an 11-match winning streak.
"All I kept hearing about was how they had this great outside hitter [Jill Wittnebel]," said Incrocci. "They just weren't able to get the ball to her."
Bel Air (12-5), making its first trip to the semifinals since 1989, knew it was overmatched.
"We just wanted to come here, experience it and have fun," said Wittnebel. "Nobody really got down."
-- Rich Scherr