In their final games of the season, the River Hill boys' soccer team secured its place in history, and Hammond's team just missed making it.
River Hill played Towson to a 1-1 draw at the University of Maryland Baltimore County last Thursday to share the Maryland 3A title and tie a state public school record for consecutive titles (four). Two days later on the same field, Hammond played in the state 2A final for the first time but fell to Liberty, 1-0.
River Hill (14-1-2) also shared the 2003 state title with Towson (9-4-2) after playing to a 1-1 draw. It now shares the consecutive-record title with Wilde Lake, which won Class C titles from 1981 to 1984. It was River Hill's seventh state title since the school opened in 1996, tying it for the second-most championships in the state tournament's 35-year history. Oakland Mills has 12 titles.
"Of course we really wanted to win the game, but any time you can walk off the field as a player with four state titles, it's still a big accomplishment that not a lot of players have done," said River Hill senior midfielder Tyler Meade. "We still made history."
Coach Bill Stara, who guided Centennial to seven state titles in 14 years before starting the program at River Hill, said none of his previous state champions played a harder postseason schedule than this team.
In the 3A East Region tournament, the Hawks posted victories over Long Reach, J.M. Bennett and Mount Hebron, which had lost just seven games combined. River Hill then blanked 3A West Region champion Seneca Valley, 3-0, in the state semifinals for its 11th shutout of the season.
"No team had as tough a road to get to the state tournament than this team had, and that makes it more gratifying," Stara said. "In the region, we made it through the group of death, and I didn't know how much we had left in the tank, but we had enough to at least share the state title."
River Hill outshot Towson 21-7, including 6-0 during two 10-minute overtimes. But the Hawks, who entered the game having outscored opponents 42-6 couldn't finish their chances.
The Hawks took the lead in the 38th minute when junior defender Olatunji Williams headed in a long throw-in from senior defender Matt Stara. Towson sophomore forward Wils Alpern converted a penalty kick in the 71st minute after a River Hill player took down sophomore forward Michael Baller.
Towson senior goalie Andrew Gisriel made 12 saves -- including stopping Williams and senior forward Malcolm Joseph IV from just a few feet away during overtime -- to prevent River Hill from winning the title outright.
"We had so many chances, but we just couldn't get one in the goal when we needed to," said Matt Stara, the coach's son. "Their goalie played a great game and had a lot to do with it, but we still feel like we should have won."
Hammond (12-3-5), playing in its first state final, concluded its best season in school history after Liberty sophomore Tony Lee's shot off Andrew Chernezia's corner kick hit the post, deflected off a defender's foot and trickled over the goal line with less than six minutes left in the game.
Liberty finished 15-0-3 with 12 shutouts after holding Hammond, which entered having scored 31 goals, to just three shots.
"We lost to a good team, but it's still always upsetting to lose a state championship like that," said Hammond senior stopper Jose Maldonado. "We had a miscommunication on who was going to cover the post, and that's where the kick went, and we were late getting there. But to make it this far is still better than any team we've ever had at Hammond, so I think people see our team differently now."