BASKETBALL: Heritage boys have to settle for second in 6-AAAA
The last time the Heritage Generals faced the Southeast Whitfield Raiders was on Jan. 25 as the teams combined for 166 points in Heritage’s 88-78 win in Boynton.
Friday night’s rematch in Dalton saw both teams struggle to reach half that total.
Facing the upset-minded fourth-seeded Raiders in the Region 6-AAAA tournament championship game in front of a packed house, third-seeded Heritage led by four points early in the fourth quarter, but Southeast would make the plays down the stretch to win the game, 47-41, and claim its first region boys’ basketball championship since 2001.
The championship tilt was a physical clash from start to finish. Both teams played extremely tight defense all night and rarely was there an uncontested shot.
Heritage head coach Kevin Terry said fatigue perhaps played a factor.
“I think we might have had some tired legs from last night,” he suggested. “We didn’t hit as many shots as we did last night. Southeast defended us better, but I thought we defended them better too. The last time we played them at our place they were lagging off of our shooters and we were splashing them in. Tonight they did a little bit better job of staying connected to our shooters.”
Southeast scored the first five points of the game and held Heritage (17-11) scoreless for the first five minutes. But a Cooper Terry 3-point play at the 2:57 mark finally broke the drought and five straight points by Will Allen helped the Generals forge a 10-9 lead after the first period.
Points would remain at a premium throughout the next two quarters. Southeast took a precarious 18-15 lead into halftime before Heritage came back go ahead 24-23 with just eight minutes to play. Terry would open the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Generals their biggest lead of the night at 27-23.
But the Raiders would respond with an 11-4 run over the next four minutes. Bryce Stanley would deliver a big 3-pointer, while five straight points by Austin Brock would give Southeast a 34-31 lead with 3:41 play.
Allen would answer for Heritage, tying the game with a 3-pointer on the Generals’ next possession, but Southeast big man Zac Cole would go strong the basket and was rewarded with a 3-point play to put the Raiders back in front with 2:51 remaining, this time for good.
Murphy Flood would crash the offensive glass for back-to-back put-backs, sandwiched around a baseline jumper by Allen. Then, after Heritage turned the ball over with just over a minute to play, Brock would drive the ball to the hoop once more to convert a lay-up with 58 seconds to left to give Southeast its biggest lead of the game at 43-36.
The Generals would refuse to fold, however. Kobe McAllister got loose inside for a bucket and, after the Raiders were called for traveling, Terry launched a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left to slice the lead down to 43-41.
But Brock and Flood would both hit two free throws in the final 31 seconds, while Heritage would miss its final three shots of the night. Southeast would go 9-of-12 from the charity stripe in the game, but 7-of-7 in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. The Generals would finish the night just 1-of-3 at the free throw line.
“It was a bit of an ugly game, but we had our chances,” Terry added. “We had the lead, but they just made a few more plays than we did. I thought we had some good looks in the third quarter that just didn’t go in. We might have been able to stretch it out a little bit and got a bit bigger of a lead, but it just didn’t happen. I was proud of my guys for fighting and clawing and staying in it though. Southeast has got a good team with a lot of seniors that have all been playing together for a while.”
Cole and Stanley had 11 points each for the Raiders, while Brock and Flood both finished with 10 points.
Terry led all scorers with 12 points for Heritage, followed by Allen and McAllister with 10 points each. Cade Collins had five points and Nolan Letzgus ended the night with four.
Heritage will now wait to see who emerges as the No. 3 seed from Region 7. That region is scheduled to finish up its tournament on Saturday. As the No. 2 seed from Region 6, the Generals will host at least a first-round state playoff game.
“I’m stoked about the playoff game and our guys are too,” Terry continued. “We’re probably going to get to do a doubleheader with our (region championship) girls’ team, which will be cool. We don’t know who we’re playing yet, but we know it’s going to be a pretty tough opponent. Still, we’re looking forward to it.”