Friday's Class 3A East regional final was decided by the width of a hand.
Centennial's Carly Simenauer used an ace that just got past the hand of a diving Angela Rusconi to score the winning point and advance the host Eagles to the state semifinals.
In a match sure to be remembered as a classic, top-ranked Centennial held off second-ranked River Hill, 17-25, 25-17, 22-25, 25-23, 25-23, to win the regional title and a berth in Monday's state semifinals at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum in College Park.
The Eagles will face Quince Orchard or Blake, both from Montgomery County, at 6 p.m.
The match featured everything from raucous student fans on both sides (the schools are seven miles apart) to a wild celebration when Centennial students swarmed the court.
"Hey, it was No. 1 vs. No. 2. It was a dogfight. Would you expect anything less?" Centennial coach Larry Schofield said.
River Hill (17-2) opened the first set firing on all cylinders. The Hawks never trailed and won, 25-17. Centennial (18-0) answered, turning the tables in the second set to earn a 25-17 win of its own. After River Hill rallied to win the third set, 25-22, the Hawks found themselves four points from taking the match in the fourth set when they used a kill by Sarah Okey to take a 21-20 lead. Centennial used three kills by Samantha Brostrom to score five of the last seven points to win, 25-23, and tie the match at two sets apiece.
The fifth set was no less thrilling, with both teams fighting off four match points each before Simenauer's ace ended it.
"I wish it had gone our way," River Hill coach Lynn Paynter said. "We needed to finish the fourth game, but we lost the momentum and never got it back."
As the game got to the fifth set, the marquee seniors on both sides stepped to the forefront. All-Metro first-team selections Brostrom (20 kills, 13 digs) and Liz Brown (17 kills, 13 digs) each made multiple big plays for Centennial, while River Hill's Megan Rosburg (15 kills, 14 digs), also a first-team All-Metro pick, and Okey (28 kills) did the same for the Hawks. In the end, it was one communication mistake on a serve that decided the match.
"This is the best match I've ever played in," said an emotional Okey, who will play volleyball at Cornell next season. "It just kept going back and forth. It hurts right now cause that was our last chance."
Brostrom, who will play at Albany next year, agreed.
"Yeah, this [was] definitely the best that I've played in," she said. "Our teams are pretty equal, and both teams were tired at the end. I think it just came down to the mental game, and we just wanted it a little more."