The River Hill girls soccer team defeated Linganore Thursday night to claim its third straight state championship. (Tim Schwartz/Baltimore Sun Media Group video)
The No. 2 River Hill girls soccer team has responded favorably to adversity all season.
So when the Hawks were running late for their bid to capture a third straight Class 3A state crown on Thursday — traffic and the inclement weather delaying their arrival until 30 minutes before game time — they stayed collected and found a way to win.
River Hill went about its business against state final newcomer Linganore, getting goals from standouts Jessica Hopkins and Alex Hamer in the game's first seven minutes and then leaning on their defense to handle significant second-half pressure to come away with a 2-1 win over the Lancers at Loyola University's Ridley Athletic Complex.
River Hill closed another season with a huge celebration on its final day. The Hawks won their final 14 games to finish 17-2, and handed Linganore its first loss of the season after 16 wins.
The win added to River Hill's state record for championships (10) and the Hawks have bunched nine of them in sets of three. They also won three straight crowns from 1999-2001 and 2006-08.
"I think all of the diverse situations that we've been in kind of prepared us in leading up to moments like these where it's crucial that no matter what comes up you still need to score and you still need to pull through," Hamer said. "So, I think having difficult situations that we've overcome ... all these things just come at us and I'm just proud of everyone for how we overcome it."
Linganore's calling card this season was a stingy defense that featured 13 shutouts and only three goals against. The Lancers never allowed more than one goal in a game and did not trail the entire season.
The Hawks only needed five minutes to take a lead and seven minutes to score twice on Thursday.
A perfectly-placed through ball from Hamer got Hopkins free behind the Lancers defense, and she placed a shot to the right corner from 15 yards away for a 1-0 lead five minutes into play.
Two minutes later, Hopkins hit a corner kick that made its way to the far post for Hamer, who buried a shot from six yards out to make it 2-0.
The Lancers were quickly able to get one goal back when Elizabeth Coletti scored in front with 30:44 left in the first half.
It was the Hawks defense that proved to be the difference in the second half.
With 27:40 to play goalie Julia Caine had a diving save to her left, turning away Montanna Hill's penalty kick.
"When I heard him call the penalty kick , I was just thinking in my head "I need to save this, I need to save it," Caine said. "We practice PKs every day so I just knew if I watched her feet, watched where the ball was going I had a good chance."
Two minutes later, defender Megan Chun cleared McKenzie McCaul's shot from the goal line. Becca Higgins kept another Linganore shot from going in minutes later, her clear skimming off the post before coming out.
After weathering the early storm, the Hawks played the rest of the second half on more even terms as the Lancers chances were limited. Hill had two shots in the final four minutes — the first going wide and the second blocked by a nearby defender.
"Coach [Brian] Song always says 'we bend but we never break,'" Higgins said. "And I feel like I just had it in my head 'We're bending, we're bending, but we're not going to break.'"
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River Hill was primed by a talented Howard County league this season and then survived a number of close calls in the playoffs.
Despite finishing 11-0 in Howard County, two of the Hawks' final three regular season games were 1-0 wins against Atholton and Wilde Lake. They then opened the East region playoffs with a 1-0 win over Reservoir and later needed overtime to get past No. 15 Centennial, 2-1, to reach the state tournament.
Trailing 1-0 to No. 3 Bel Air at the half in Saturday's state semifinal, the Hawks were smart, resilient and calm in regrouping for a 2-1 win.