River Hill grabs hold of Western, secures elusive title

On High Schools

March 15, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Just as she had the year before, River Hill coach Teresa Waters took the time Saturday night to go down the bench and speak to each girl on her basketball team, to thank them for the time and energy and sacrifice they had expended in the just-concluded season.

This time, however, Waters' words were of congratulations rather than of consolation, as the Hawks completed a two-year odyssey the best way possible, with a 3A state title.

And when the horn sounded and then-No. 8 River Hill completed their 51-46 upset of then-No. 3 Western, the Hawks reveled in the moment, which was so much better than the dreams they had allowed themselves to dream.

"When you work all four years to get this and finally get it, you feel great," star guard Keisha Eaddy said. "I'm going to remember this forever. This is my last high school game. It's just going to be memorable."

On top of the state championship trophy and a game ball, the Hawks also received an award for sportsmanship. Though that trophy typically goes to a losing team, River Hill was eminently qualified to get the sportsmanship award this year, as the Hawks knew better than just about anyone at RAC Arena about smiling through pain.

They came to UMBC a year ago with the No.1 ranking and an unbeaten season. Having finally advanced past a nemesis from Prince George's County after five previous tries, the Hawks held a 15-point lead in the third quarter of their semifinal against Milford Mill.

You know what happened next: The smaller Millers essentially neutralized All-Metro center Brittany Gordon and pressed and trapped the Hawks all over the floor, coming back to win, 68-59, before taking the state title.

Gordon graduated, along with four others, leaving River Hill without anyone over 6 feet. The loss could have been debilitating.

Instead, the Hawks quietly, but surely made their way back up the rankings, going unbeaten again and winning the first Howard County championship. And when the dust had settled this weekend, River Hill was the only Baltimore-area public school to emerge from Catonsville with a state title.

"This is awesome," Waters said. "These kids work so hard. I want to tell you, every year they've always said, `Next year, we'll get them.' My motto is, hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. And we work hard. We like to pride ourselves on working harder than anybody in the state. Not that we know that we do, but at least we like to think we do."

Saturday night wasn't easy, nor should it have been. Nothing this elusive should come with ribbons and bows attached. The Doves, with seven seniors and two players 6 feet or taller, overcame their self-inflicted wounds (33 turnovers). When Antoinette Brewer hit a pull-up jumper with 6:32 left, Western, the area's most storied girls program, had a six-point lead with a seeming foothold on their first state title since 1995.

This time, though, the Hawks wouldn't go away. Eaddy, a candidate for Player of the Year, scored on a layup with 4:12 left to cut the Western lead to 39-38. It was just part of a brilliant performance for Eaddy, who had 20 points, six rebounds and six steals in her last game before she heads to Temple.

"I'm so glad we won it for Keisha," forward Cari Haas said. "Yeah, I was playing for myself, but I really wanted it for Coach, and I wanted it for Keisha. They've had so much pride and they've believed in us the entire season. It's just amazing that a Howard County team could come this far. I'm really proud of my team."

And they, in turn, have a lot of pride in Haas, the Hawks' glue player. The 5-8 senior, who had 15 points, scored seven straight for River Hill down the stretch, including the three-pointer at the 2:34 mark that gave the Hawks the lead they would not relinquish.

"She stepped up," Waters said of Haas. "She wanted it bad. Keisha wanted it bad. It's just awesome."

Waters has had just about the best two years of any coach in the area, boys or girls, going a dazzling 53-1 since the start of the 2004-05 season. And, yes, the boys and girls teams are different, but they are essentially the same: laughter and pain, hard work and luck, guts and guile.

And at their best, their seasons end with trophies and hugs and tears. The happy kind, the kind Teresa Waters and her kids finally got to shed Saturday.


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