The Howard County girls basketball championship is journeying down a familiar path.
No. 5 River Hill, winners of three of the past four county titles, clinched at least a share of another crown last night with a 64-45 thumping of visiting No. 14 Glenelg in Clarksville.
The Hawks, who improved to 20-1 overall and 18-1 in the county, have a half-game lead over No. 13 Long Reach (20-2, 18-2) in the race for the championship.
River Hill can claim the title outright by defeating Reservoir (1-18, 1-18) tomorrow night.
For some of the Hawks, retaining at least a portion of the title they captured last season meant they could finally silence the doubters.
"A lot of people didn't expect anything from us this year," said junior Brittany Gordon. "We had to show that we're just as good as last year, if not better."
Added senior guard Ashley Thomas: "Nobody thought we'd be as good this year. We had to come out and prove it."
River Hill, which hasn't lost since Dec. 17, earned its 17th consecutive victory over a Gladiators squad that had surrendered an average of 38.2 points a game before last night and had allowed just one opponent to reach the 60-point mark.
But the Hawks took advantage of their speed in the backcourt to assume a 13-6 lead in the first quarter and harass Glenelg into 11 turnovers in the period.
The Gladiators stuck around, however, eventually cutting a double-digit lead to four points with about a minute left in the second quarter.
But River Hill scored the period's final seven points and was never seriously threatened after halftime.
Sophomore guard LaKeisha Eaddy recorded a game-high 21 points and three blocks, while Thomas contributed 16 points, eight rebounds, four steals and four assists.
Eaddy said part of the team's strategy was to overwhelm Glenelg with pressure and fast-break opportunities.
"We knew that in order to beat Glenelg, we were going to have to be quick and play good defense," she said. "We knew that would be a factor, and I think we did that."
And when the Hawks couldn't ramp it up, they turned to Gordon, who compiled most of her 18 points and 15 rebounds in the team's half-court set.
The Gladiators (16-5, 15-4) were led by sophomore forward Alex Mundy's 12 points and four rebounds and senior guard Chela Hamilton's 11 points and six rebounds, but they converted just 36.3 percent (16 of 44) of their shots from the field and missed 14 of 27 free throws.