For River Hill, 15-0 only perfect if it leads to states

THE BALTIMORE SUN

THE STORY of a life lived is often contained in the dash between a person's birth date and the date of their death. The same can be said about a year in the life of a team, but the dash that separates the wins and losses for this year's River Hill girls basketball squad may contain an interesting subplot or two.

For now, the number on the right of the Hawks' win-loss column is zero, as in 15-0 heading into today's game at Oakland Mills. They are the only unbeaten Baltimore area basketball team - boys or girls - nearly two months into the season, and that would be a nice story for most teams.

But the No. 4 Hawks know that the dash for this season won't be complete - regular-season loss or not - if the story ends without a serious run at a 3A state championship.

"Everything is going to be work. Nothing is easy," said River Hill coach Teresa Waters. "We don't even look at that [the unbeaten record]. We just look to get better and better each game."

Of course, Waters said that while dropping to a knee and knocking the wooden floor for luck, while ordering the players that were left in the practice gym after Wednesday's 64-36 win over Centennial to do the same.

Who could blame Waters for wanting a little luck? The Hawks have been a little cursed the past five years, appearing to be just good enough to get to a certain level, but unable to take the next step.

River Hill has captured the Howard County championship in four of the past five seasons, only to be bounced from the state playoffs five straight times before getting to the state semifinals, all by Prince George's County schools.

The last three eliminations have come at the hands of Gwynn Park, twice in the East regional championship game. The Yellow Jackets went on to win the state title in each of the past three years, further adding to the disappointment at the Clarksville school.

The stage is set for a similar scenario this year, as the Hawks are a heavy favorite to not only win the Howard title, but run the table. The only serious challenge to an unbeaten season remaining on the schedule for River Hill is a Feb. 15 game at Mount Hebron.

The Hawks slogged it out with Centennial for three quarters Wednesday, threatening to blow the Eagles out before letting them back in the game with poor shooting and sloppy ball-handling.

Then, leading by just four starting the fourth, River Hill opened the quarter with a dazzling 13-0 run to blow things open, orchestrated by junior point guard LaKeisha Eaddy, who turned in one of the most impressive six-minute stretches seen in the area this season.

The 5-foot-6 Eaddy, who finished with 27 points, 10 steals and a few dropped passes short of a triple double, scored 13 of River Hill's first 15 points in the quarter in a variety of ways, from a remarkable putback off a pass that seemed destined to sail over her head out of bounds, to a back-breaking three-pointer at the 4:40 mark that stamped the game over.

"I don't think I'll ever play with anyone who's as great as she is," said center Brittany Gordon, who just happened to score the 1,000th point of her career. "I'm shocked at how she progresses every year. She's phenomenal and she's not cocky at all. She's more team-oriented than I ever could be. It's an honor to be on the court with her."

The Hawks aren't just Eaddy and Gordon, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds Wednesday. Juniors Alison Geoghan and Cari Haas are solid on-the-ball defenders and are key to the pressure defense River Hill deploys, while senior Suzy Herlihy is a solid frontcourt complement to Gordon.

But, in an odd twist, the Hawks' potentially fatal flaw may be that, at a time when coaches and administrators bemoan the notion that kids increasingly devote themselves to one sport year-round, only Eaddy and Gordon are exclusively basketball players.

Each of the other players plays at least one and in some cases two other sports, meaning they don't devote their full energies toward being a great team, while some of the teams they'll see in state competition play together - informally, of course - in the summer and fall.

This may be the best of the seven teams Waters has coached here, since coming over from Oakland Mills, but that may be a small consolation if the Hawks can't at least reach the state semifinals. That will almost certainly mean beating a Prince George's team, likely their nemesis, Gwynn Park, to get to UMBC.

The Internet bulletin board chatter has it that River Hill's title hopes will again be, well, dashed. Luckily, for the Hawks, there's six weeks and a lot of competition still left to determine how their dash between wins and losses will play out.

"We don't really pay attention to that [Internet chatter]. Let them talk," said Gordon. "They are obviously losing and they are jealous that they're not us. But when we get to the states, we'll save them a seat."

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