The halftime message was about marking tighter and getting to the ball faster. River Hill obviously listened.
The No. 3 Hawks threw top-ranked St. Mary's off its game - literally - to come away with a 1-0 win in yesterday's championship game of the Pioneer Shootout at Anne Arundel Community College.
Sophomore Megan Buescher's long throw, a nightmare for the St. Mary's defense all afternoon, set up the game's only goal, a header from Ashley Hooper nine minutes into the second half.
Hooper, a junior midfielder, provided the Hawks with a second-half goal to beat St. Mary's by the same 1-0 score in last year's tournament final.
River Hill (4-0) protected its lead with a more aggressive, physical brand of soccer that disrupted the Saints' finesse game throughout the second half.
"We had a rocky start, but then was able to pick it up," said River Hill coach Joan Smedley. "We've worked hard on the mental part of the game and got our heads into it. We talked about being more aggressive going to the ball and marking up better and we did that."
With the wind in their favor in the second half, the Hawks sent long balls targeted to All-Metro striker Shannon Jackson. She made positive things happen, giving the Hawks possession in their offensive third to let Buescher use her throws.
"The hardest part of defending it is it's not a lofty throw, more like a shotgun, and no one knows where it's going," said Smedley.
The pivotal throw, directed to the near post, was headed, then took a bounce in front before Hooper headed it home.
"In the first half, we went out nervous until we realized we could play with them. It was a lot better in the second half because we made sure to mark up," said Buescher.
In the first half, St. Mary's took charge at midfield to get its short passing game working and control play. The Saints generated plenty of chances, but couldn't make good on the final touch.
Senior Nicole DiAngelo, who twice left the field after hard tackles in the second half, came close, hitting the crossbar from 12 yards after slipping behind the River Hill defense just before intermission.
"We had our chances, particularly in the first half when we had four or five, but we didn't put them away. You can't do that against a good team like them," said St. Mary's coach Jerry Tobin. "We played hard, maybe not as smart as we're capable of. But you have to give them credit - they played extremely well."