College Park - One lesson high school athletes learn is to seize opportunity when they can.
Last night, River Hill (15-3) learned that lesson the hard way in a 25-27, 13-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-12 loss to Rising Sun (11-6) in the state Class 2A semifinals at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum.
The seventh-ranked Hawks were one point from beating Rising Sun, the defending Class 2A champion, three games to none and advancing to the state championship. Instead, their season is over.
The Tigers will play Liberty, a three-games-to-none winner over Eastern Tech in Friday's Class 2A state title game. That game will be played at 8 p.m., also at Ritchie Coliseum.
River Hill took the first two games and had a 24-21 lead in the third game. Rising Sun, behind six straight service points from Helaina Caldwell (nine service aces), took the game, 26-24, to remain alive.
River Hill trailed most of the fourth game but rallied behind one of Sarah Okey's 21 kills to cut the margin to 22-20. Rising Sun scored the last three points and took the game, 25-20.
The Tigers used five kills by Lindsey Monger (31 kills for the match) to take the final game, 15-12.
"It was so disappointing to lose that third game," said River Hill senior Becky Paynter (40 assists). "We played a really good game. We just weren't the ones that won."
In the second semifinal, Liberty used a dominating frontcourt to build substantial leads in the first two games and cruise to a 25-12, 25-11, 25-16 victory over Eastern Tech (11-6). The Lions (16-2) were led by Amanda McCracken's 18 kills and Sarah Lawrence's 26 assists.
"Not many teams make it here and get to play for the state championship," McCracken said. "We feel like we have a lot to prove, and I wanted to try and prove it."
The 10th-ranked Lions will play for their third state title Friday. They won in 2003 and 2004.
Liberty, behind three kills by McCracken and two aces by Erin Selby, built a 13-3 lead in the first game and was never threatened.
Eastern rallied in the second game to tie it at 6, forcing Liberty coach Lauren Eberhardt to call timeout. Then the Lions went on a 9-1 run to take a 15-7 lead. They coasted from there to a 25-11 win.
"She told us to 'play up,' " senior Kelly Viera said. "We were playing too slow, and she wanted us to" play more intensely.
Eastern Tech - in its first state tournament game since 1984 - played better in the third game. The Mavericks tied the score at 13 on a kill by Kalia Kimmell before Liberty went on a 12-3 run to close out the match.