Centennial High’s volleyball team didn’t play its best game against River Hill Tuesday evening. Its serving was erratic. The Eagles had several communication lapses.

Despite all that, one thing held true: Centennial is Centennial. The No. 2 Eagles leaned on their big-game experience to defeat top-ranked River Hill in four games, 22-25, 25-23, 25-22 and 27-25, in Clarksville.

Senior hitter Liz Brown had 19 kills for Centennial (5-0 overall, 5-0 Howard County), and Sam Brostrom added 10 kills. Sarah Okey had 21 kills for River Hill (5-1, 4-1), and Megan Rosburg finished with nine kills.

In avenging last year’s loss to the Hawks in the Class 3A East Region finals, the Eagles gained the inside track to the Howard County league crown. They did it the hard way, coming from behind in the final three games including a nine-point hole in the fourth.

“One game we were up a little bit, the rest of the time they were digging,” said Centennial coach Larry Schofeld. “I just kept telling them focus, relax; make each touch a little bit better. You can only do one point at a time.”

“They’ll have their runs, they’ll have kills, they’ll have their set plays, but you go to play one point at a time,” Brown said.

No point was arguably bigger than Trisha Mockapetris’ kill, bringing Centennial to within 23-21 in the fourth game, starting a four-point run and bringing the Eagles to within a point of victory. The Eagles’ ensuing serve went into the net, forcing deuce.

The Hawks forced a second deuce at 25 after Sarah Okey’s kill, but weren’t able to get the ball over the net giving Centennial the advantage. River Hill couldn’t dig out Brostrom’s shot, giving the Eagles the victory in the penultimate game of the 2010 season so far.

“We wanted to come back after last year’s loss and show we’re Centennial,” said Brostrom, who added 19 digs.  “It was nerve wrenching with all the expectations of No. 1 versus No. 2.”

The highly anticipated showdown was all River Hill early. The Hawks trailed 20-19 in the opening game then scored the next five points before Centennial’s last push ended with another serve landing in the net.

The Hawks led 11-4 in the second game after a kill by Rosburg, but Centennial clawed its way even at 23. A River Hill error followed by Brown’s kill helped the Eagles tied at a game apiece.

Centennial trailed by five early in the third game before gaining the lead for good at 20-19 on a kill block by May Yang and Mockapetris. Mockapetris finished with nine kills in addition to the kill block.

While the All-Met duo of Brown and Brostrom are the undisputed leaders, Mockapetris and fellow sophomore Lexi White-torreullas served notice in the Eagles’ biggest game to date. Mockapetris was the only freshman on the varsity roster last fall.

liz brown and melody nazari“I feel like I’ve finally become the hitter I want to be,” said Mockapetris, whose sister Tehya is an Eagle assistant and member of state title squads in 2004, 2005 and 2006. “We just dug a little deeper.”

River Hill coach Lynn Paynter said her team wasn’t able to put away the 14-time state champ Eagles.

“We need to learn to push at the end and finish,” said Paynter. “It wasn’t the Centennial we were afraid of in the past; it’s the Centennial we were excited about playing. We’ll see them again.”

It could be as soon as Saturday at the Gator Invitational at Reservoir. The Eagles and Hawks are part of an eight-team field including Reservoir, Severna Park, WCAC power Good Counsel and southern Maryland stronghold Northern-Calvert.

Schofield said the Eagles will have to play better than did Tuesday, whenever they cross paths again with River Hill.

“This [Tuesday’s win] is a minor goal right now to get back to where we were when they beat us last year,” said Schofield. “Counties are a minor goal, districts are a minor goal, regional championship is the big goal and it goes through River Hill again.”

To view game action and post-game video interviews, click on the Related Videos link above.