River Hill girls soccer coach Brian Song doesn’t know how to explain the program’s unprecedented and unusual run of threes. The Hawks have won 12 state titles in program history — more than any other team in state history — and three times they have won back-to-back-to-back championships. The first came 1999-2001, then three more under Song 2006-08, and then again 2012-2014.
“I don’t know. I always look for that fourth one,” Song said with a smile.
After a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Hereford in a rematch of last year’s state championship game Saturday night at home in a 2A state semifinal in Clarksville, the chance at another three-peat remained in tact. The two-time defending 2A state champions rallied to advance to the state final for the 13th time, a game in which they have never lost with a perfect 12-0 mark.
River Hill will face Walkersville, which beat Fallston in penalty kicks in the other semifinal, in the state championship game next week at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex.
Song admitted after the victory that he thought before the season began a chance at another state title would be a long shot. His team, however, has proven otherwise, as River Hill (16-1) has reeled off 16 consecutive victories since a 1-0 loss Leonardtown in the season opener.
“I thought this would be my rebuilding year after losing quite a bit of star status from last year but these girls in July when we were playing 7-v-7 said, ‘Hey coach, do we have it?’ I said I can drive the ship but it’s you girls, you’re the ones who have to dedicate yourselves and put it out on the field,” Song said. “Ultimately, the girls have to produce.”
The Hawks were in unusual territory on Saturday against the Bulls. They struck first when Rachel Saunders skied over a Hawks defender and headed home her ninth goal of the season to give Hereford (14-3) an early 1-0 lead, and River Hill found itself trailing for just the third time all season.
But the Hawks never lost confidence, and Song said the girls found their stride after a sluggish opening 25 minutes.
“I think the girls think if they stay steadfast and continue to just play, the opportunity will come,” he said. “And sure enough, it did.”
The deficit lasted 22 minutes, 4 seconds and ended with a one-timed strike by Brigette Wang, which came via a classic River Hill set piece. Danielle Poindexter launched a free kick from near midfield into the box, and a poorly executed clear attempt by a Hereford defender sent the ball skyward and down on to Wang’s right foot and eventually into the top-right corner of goal to tie the game at one apiece.
Hereford coach Brad Duvall has seen enough film of the Hawks this season to know how dangerous the Hawks’ set pieces are. He was disappointed in how many chances his team allowed.
“Our plan coming in was to not give [set pieces] up, but we gave up about 15 of them,” he said. “I told them at halftime when it was 1-1, we cannot give up set pieces inside of 50 yards because Poindexter is great at putting the ball in dangerous spots. They could’ve scored more of them.”
The game-winning tally came less than two minutes into the second half. Jamie Caine dribbled through the box and just before the ball went over the end line she turned and sent in a pass from the right side of the box and to the near post, where Adriana Zakel was at the right place at the right time.
She touched the ball just enough to get it past Hereford goalkeeper Lucy Griffin to make it 2-1, and a Hawks defense that has allowed five goals in 17 games did the rest.
Hereford had one final chance to tie the game in the final two minutes but a shot in the box just missed the left post and went wide. Ultimately, the Bulls season came to an end at the hands of River Hill for the second straight year.
“Sometimes the better team doesn’t win,” said Duvall. “We controlled the ball. They’re tough as hell and they relied on set pieces, cleaning up balls and they’re tough. They go after balls when it’s a mess in front of goal, and that’s how they scored both of their goals today. ... We got some chances but it is what it is, it’s soccer.”
River Hill (16-1) — 2, Hereford (14-3) — 1
Goals: RH — Brigette Wang, Adriana Zakel; H — Rachel Saunders
Assists: RH — Danielle Poindexter, Jamie Caine
Saves: RH — Caroline Duffy 6; H — Lucy Griffin 5