Northern outside hitter Katie Radford thanked her coach and teammates for waking her up Friday night, but McDonough wished the 5-foot-8 senior had remained asleep.

Radford registered 21 kills, including spikes to finish the second game and the match, to help the Patriots beat the host Rams, 15-9, 15-3, 15-1, Friday and win the Maryland 3A South Region volleyball championship.

Despite the convincing victory for the area's No. 1-ranked team, Radford and Coach Beth Incrocci agreed that the big hitter and the team got off to a slow start.

"In the first game, it looked like Katie was afraid to hit the ball, but once she got the first [kill] and then the second, she played well," said Incrocci, who has guided the Patriots to the state semifinals four times in the past five seasons.

Radford admitted her poor play was a major factor in Northern's sluggish start. The Rams (14-3) raced out to a 7-0 first-game lead behind the serves of sophomore Ashley Valdisera and the net play of junior hitter Lori Ashton.

"I'm usually the 'go-to' hitter, and I realize that if I'm playing poorly, the team doesn't play well, and that's the worst I've played all season," Radford said. "I had a poor warm-up, I wasn't jumping and my timing was off. I think because I wanted [to win] so bad."

With her team trailing, 5-0, in the first game, Incrocci called a timeout. The Patriots gave up only nine more points the rest of the match.

In the timeout, " 'Katie,' I said, 'Start hitting the ball,' " Incrocci said. "And once she found the court [with her kills], she was great."

The early portion of the match wasn't the first time Northern has slumped in the postseason.

"We've been doing the exact same thing, but I'm glad we got it out of our system," Incrocci said. "Every team is going to go through a rut like that, but the regional final is not a time to go through something like that. We finally found our offense."

For Radford and fellow seniors Tera Blevins, Tiffany Sands, Jessica Coleman and Devin Karcesky, the regional victory helps erase the memories of the 1998 season, when rival Calvert won the 3A South championship at Northern.

"We were all upset," Radford said of last season's end. "But we dedicated ourselves during the offseason, and the entire team took a kick-boxing class that helped make us more flexible. I didn't want my senior season to end here."

Northern will play the 3A North champion--Dundalk or Bel Air--in the state semifinals Wednesday at Essex Community College. The state final is scheduled for Saturday at Catonsville Community College.

McDonough first-year coach Morris Davis was quick to say that the best team prevailed Friday.

"They beat the second, third and fourth-best teams in the [Southern Maryland Athletic Conference] to get here," Davis said. "We tried to find some holes, and it worked for a while, but they are an incredible defensive team. We would have had to play at the top of our game."

Northern, which won four consecutive Maryland 3A championships from 1994-97, has not lost an individual game this season. The Patriots' closest match came Wednesday against No. 2 Calvert, a 15-10, 16-14, 15-12 victory. McDonough advanced to the regional final by beating La Plata, 15-1, 15-3, 12-15, 15-1.