River Hill is headed back to the Maryland 3A girls’ basketball final for the third time in five years after beating Friendly, 52-43. But the feeling is a bit different this time around, at least to senior Megan Sterling.

“Last year, I was so nervous I could barely stand up,” said Sterling, who tied for the team lead with 12 points against Friendly. “This year was a little easier. Just to be out there and actually be able to take in everything was awesome.”

The Hawks advance to Saturday’s 8 p.m. title game where they will meet defending champ Aberdeen for the second straight season.

River Hill took its first meeting with Friendly, 40-36, on Dec. 26 at the IAABO Holiday Classic. In that game, the Hawks survived despite going scoreless in the third quarter.

On Thursday, River Hill (23-3) created distance in a tight game by closing the first half on an 11-2 run. A three-pointer from senior Julia Collins with four seconds left in the half gave the Hawks a 27-18 lead at the break and the lead grew to 15 points early in the third quarter.

Friendly (21-5) struggled to get on track offensively, hitting just one field goal in the second quarter. The Patriots shot 20 percent from the field before halftime.

But in their first state tournament appearance since 1997, the Patriots settled in, boosted by three three-pointers in the third quarter. They took their first lead on a pair of free throws by senior Janay Carter at 39-38 with 6:24 remaining, only to see the Hawks steal it back seconds later on a layup by senior Megan Sterling.

The Hawks held on from there thanks to a key basket apiece from twin sisters Julia and Jenna Collins in the final two minutes.

“We didn’t necessarily play the type of game that we would’ve liked to play but we won, bottom-line,” River Hill Coach Teresa Waters said. “I think it was just heart and hustle and the kids were determined.”

Senior Chayla Lewis led Friendly with a game-high 13 points.

ABERDEEN 71, DAMASCUS 50: Following a Maryland 3A semifinal loss to the defending state champion Eagles, Swarmin’ Hornets junior Kelli Prange was already talking about a rematch in the state playoffs next year. That’s how fast everything happened to the Swarmin’ Hornets. In an instant, the speed and pressure of the Eagles forced Prange and her teammates out of their game, leaving them to start thinking about next winter.

Freshman Stephanie Jones scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead Aberdeen.

Jones’s quickness on the perimeter, blended in with an array of interior moves, was the difference against a Damascus team (23-3) that spotted Aberdeen (24-3) an 11-1 lead in the first three minutes.

Damascus got back into it in the second quarter thanks to gritty play from Beck Barrett (10 points, 17 rebounds) and Prange (13 points, six rebounds), but the Swarmin’ Hornets’ 20-19 lead midway through the period was their only advantage of the night. Jones (20 points) hit a three-pointer early in the third quarter to ignite a 10-0 run that gave Aberdeen a 45-33 lead.

“We’re obviously going to see Aberdeen next year,” said Prange, who is one of four junior starters coming back for Damascus. “Let’s just say they better be ready. . . because I hate losing.”