BASKETBALL: Heritage girls roll to region title
Over the last four or five seasons, the Heritage Lady Generals versus the Northwest Lady Bruins has morphed into arguably the top basketball rivalry in all of Region 6-AAA, boys or girls.
Heritage picked up a one-point victory in Tunnel Hill back in early December and Northwest returned the favor in mid-January by breaking Heritage’s hearts with a three-point overtime win in Boynton.
The rubber match would take place inside the Southeast Whitfield High School gym on Friday night and the outcome was something no one could have seen coming.
The Lady Generals came out firing on all cylinders from the opening tip, torching the nets on the offensive end of the floor and clamping down on the defensive end before putting an exclamation point on their second region title in four seasons with an 80-58 rout.
Reagan Armour and Sarah Bandy each had 15 points apiece in the first half. Bandy, seemingly fully recovered from a dislocated elbow suffered back in November, finished with 11 first-quarter points, including three 3-pointers, while Armour battled her way for eight first-quarter points as Heritage led 26-11 at the end of the period.
The Lady Generals would then open the second quarter on a 10-0 run over the first 2:12 of the period. Bandy had four points in the run, while Ansley Bice added six as Heritage increased their lead to 25 with five minutes left in the opening half.
While Heritage’s offense continued to find open players with crisp passes, its defense was coming up with steals and forcing turnovers and poor shots from Northwest. Apart from standout player Jada Griffin, who still had to fight for every point she scored, the Lady Bruins struggled from the floor and trailed 46-25 at halftime.
“The other two times we played them this year, we were also able to jump out to a lead,” Heritage head coach Eddie Bryant said. “But in those two games, we let up. Tonight, we never really let up.”
Heritage pushed the lead back to 25 early in the third when Northwest begin to show some of its championship pedigree. As the turnover bug begin to bite the Lady Generals, the Lady Bruins took advantage with a 17-5 run to trim Heritage’s lead down to 13 points with 2:30 left in the period.
The Lady Generals still led by 13, 60-47, to begin the fourth and saw Northwest briefly get to within 11 points of tying the game. However, Griffin picked up her fifth foul with 5:19 to play and point guard Tionna Baker was also forced to sit for the remainder of the night after fouling out with 4:15 left and Northwest trailing 67-53.
Heritage would make its free throws down the stretch to pull away. Bice and Emily Wiley combined to go 10-of-14 from the line in the final three minutes to salt away the region title.
“They got in foul trouble with their point guard and their post player and we got in a little foul trouble with our point guard, too,” Bryant added. “You could see when Ansley was out of the game, it got a little shaky, but I’m just so proud of this team.”
Wylie, voted the region’s Player of the Year, finished with 21 points, including an 8-of-9 performance at the free throw line. Armour not only played solid defense against Griffin, but finished the game with 19 points. Bandy went for 18, while Bice finished with 15. Four points from Riley Kokinda, two by Haley Phillips and one from Sydney St. John rounded out the scoring for the Lady Generals.
Griffin and Whitley Chumley shared team-high honors with 14 points for Northwest, while Baker added 11 points.
Heritage’s 2019 senior class now has a pair of region championships and one region runner-up finish in their four seasons wearing Navy-and-Red.
“This one kind of caps their careers, even though we have one or maybe even two games still left at home,” Bryant added. “I’m so proud. The hard work they’ve been putting in for the last four years all kind of came to a climax tonight with another region championship.
“We have six seniors (Bice, Wiley, Armour, Bandy, Phillips and Abby Thompson) and they’ve all been great. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. They’re all great basketball players and we’re going to miss them. I’m already getting a little emotional thinking about them not being here next year.”
Heritage (22-5) will have to wait until Saturday to see who will be the No. 4 seed out of Region 7. The Lady Generals will host a first-round playoff game this upcoming weekend, as will the Lady Bruins. Gilmer defeated Pickens in the girls’ consolation game earlier in the day. Both of those two teams will be on the road for the first round of Class 4A state tournament.