Atholton fans stormed River Hill's court after the Raiders upset the Hawks in December.

And when Mount Hebron topped the Hawks early last month, River Hill players had to leave through a side entrance to avoid the exuberant crowd.

Last year's county champions, River Hill had become an afterthought in this season's race for the boys' basketball title. Instead, the focus had been on Long Reach's 13-game winning streak, Atholton's incredible turnaround and Mount Hebron's emergence as a basketball power.

That changed last week.

"No one gives us any respect," River Hill senior guard Wes McCoy said. "We are a lot tougher than people think. We are just out trying to earn people's respect, trying to earn respect in the league."

River Hill earned the respect of Atholton with a 55-47 win Friday night, pulling the Hawks even with the Raiders in the county standings.

The Hawks were 13-3 (9-3 in league play) before hosting a game yesterday with Long Reach that ended too late for this edition. Long Reach led the league at 14-1 overall (10-1 in the county); Mount Hebron was second (12-3, 10-1); and Atholton was (12-4, 8-4).

"If I had to make a prediction, it's still going to be Long Reach, and it could be Hebron, River Hill or Atholton," Raiders Coach Jim Albert said. "I think we all are still in the hunt for the top spot."

In that case, River Hill may be surging at the right time. The Hawks' win over Atholton was their fifth since an embarrassing loss to Mount Hebron Jan. 10, and their five-game winning streak through Friday was second to Mount Hebron's current nine-game streak.

The lineup that took the court against Atholton was very different than last year, when now-graduated county player of the year Kevin Steenberge dominated the court.

The lineup also has changed since the start of this season, with sophomore Aaron Bolds and junior Rogers Barnes adding quickness, guard Kyle Sullivan adding an outside touch and senior Ben Nowak adding bulk to the front court.

Senior center Matt Glover and junior point guard Richie Jackson have been the constants, and the pair has picked up its game. In the past five games, Glover has averaged 15.6 points; Jackson has averaged 10.2.

"We are just playing as a team," Jackson said. "There are no superstars. Everybody just has their role. We come to practice, and we work hard. We just go out and try to win every time. There's no giving up."

Still, the team has searched to fill the void left by Steenberge, a former All-Met now coming off the bench for Richmond.

Jackson and others are doing their best to accomplish that.

"I want to get the county championship back really bad," Jackson said. "Last year, I had a lot of friends and family and people all over the county say we won it just because of Kevin. This year I am going to try to prove we can do it without Kevin. . . . We are good with him, but we are still good without him."

In fact, River Hill is in nearly the exact same position as it was last year at this time. On Feb. 1, 2002, the Hawks were 13-4 overall and 10-3 in league play and finished 17-6, 14-4 to win their first county title.

"Losing Kevin, losing a player of the year and one of the best players in the county in several years, teams were looking and saying, 'Oh, one-man team,' or whatever," Coach Brian Van Deusen said. "This year is more of a team, more of a balanced attack. I don't know if it's easier or tougher to defend, but you can't just focus on one guy."

Meantime, Glover is doing his best Steenberge impression.

"At times the last couple weeks, he has been able to almost dominate at points like Kevin did," Van Deusen said. "There have been stretches lately where Matt has been able to dominate, and I have seen glimpses of Kevin in him lately, and I would like to keep seeing it."

River Hill's Richie Jackson tries to dribble out of trouble during his team's 55-47 victory over Atholton on Friday. Below, Hawks' center Matt Glover battles for position with Atholton defenders Michael Holley, left, and Micah Mbah. Glover is averaging 15.6 points over River Hill's past five games.