River Hill's season hung on the foot of sophomore Tony Riso. That's just where coach Matt Shagogue wanted it.
Riso's goal on a penalty kick in the 94th minute gave No. 4 River Hill a 1-0 victory over a spirited Liberty squad in the state Class 2A semifinals at North Hagerstown High School yesterday.
The Hawks (15-4) advance to Saturday's Class 2A state championship at South River, where they will take on Loch Raven, a 2-0 winner in the other semifinal.
"He's taken our PKs all year, and I saw no reason to change that now," said Shagogue. "You saw how much confidence he had. He's was there for a reason."
The victory extends the Hawks winning streak to 14 straight, after beginning the year 1-4.
"We were ready for this," sophomore Jon Talbot said. "Liberty is a great team. When things got tough, we just kept playing until we got a break."
The teams played evenly for most of the game. River Hill controlled most of the action in the first half, with Liberty (14-2-2) getting the better chances in the second. After halftime, sixth-ranked Liberty began to drop another player back into the defensive end of the field. This continued to frustrate the Hawks, until a fortunate bounce and a good tip changed everything in the second overtime.
With 6:21 left in the second overtime, River Hill took advantage of an errant Liberty clear when the ball was deflected to forward Jake Pace. Pace tipped the ball past another defender to Talbot, who took two steps into the penalty area before being fouled hard by a Liberty defender 16 yards out. That set up Riso's heroics.
"I got a great ball, and I had No. 21 [Liberty's Phil Seegren] beat. Then he took me out, and I finally got a call," Talbot said.
Although a berth in the championship is nothing new for the Hawks (River Hill has been in the state tournament 10 of the past 12 years), this group is very different from the one that won the Hawks' last title in 2005. Shagogue is in his second season, and the team has only six seniors on the 23-man roster.
"We had our chances, and they did, too," Shagogue said. "We came close, but no one could get on the end of one. These kids have worked so hard for the past three months, and I'm so happy for them. We'll just ride the wave and see where it takes us."
Bel Air 2, Franklin 2 (Bel Air wins on penalty kicks, 4-3) -- Bel Air relied heavily on its senior leadership to defeat Franklin at North Hagerstown and advance to the state 3A finals. Co-captains Zach Keller and Colin Mayo led a senior-heavy Bobcats squad to a victory that was decided on penalty kicks after two scoreless overtime periods. The two leaders controlled the defensive end of the field from their respective sweeper and midfielder positions, and fellow senior Brendan Payne scored the winning goal on a penalty kick to allow the Bobcats (14-3-1) to move on while sending the Indians (12-3-2) home.