McDONOUGH - Except for the first three minutes of the game, the Heritage boys basketball team had no trouble punching its ticket to the championship game of the Henry County Classic on Thursday night.
Shakeem Mitchell and Key Wade each scored 17 points as the Patriots (9-3) shook off a sluggish start to claim an easy 74-51 semifinal victory over Winder-Barrow.
The Patriots will play the winner of Thursday's late game between Mundy's Mill and Henry County in the championship game at 8:30 p.m. tonight.
Against Winder-Barrow, Heritage opened the game by missing its first seven shots and turning the ball over five times.
"We got a little sloppy there at the beginning of the game," Heritage coach Ron Bradley said. "But the guys got after it and played some great basketball. From then on, we had it rocking. It was nice to get that lead there. We got a bunch of easy ones in that on stretch there, and it really helps when you can do that."
The Patriots found their offensive rhythm by going inside to junior center Justin Jones, who scored all eight of his first-quarter points during a 14-0 run. Jones finished the game with 12 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots.
The player that got Heritage going was senior point guard Blake Craft, who had a strong floor game with 12 assists, six steals and eight points.
"Of course, Blake had a great game. He had 12 assists," Bradley said. "Justin had, I believe, 15 rebounds. It was a good win for us."
Winder-Barrow cut the Heritage lead down to 20-17 midway through the second quarter, and that's when Mitchell and Juron Dobbs took over for the Patriots.
Mitchell started a 14-2 with a 3-pointer from the right corner and Dobbs, who was held scoreless in the first quarter, scored seven points in the second frame, helping Heritage build a 40-26 halftime advantage.
In the second half, Heritage's starters took turns keeping the Bulldoggs at bay.
Wade scored 10 of 17 points in the second half to lead the Patriots, who never let Winder-Barrow back in the game. The senior guard also had four steals.
Dobbs added 16 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and three assists for Heritage. He had nine boards in the second half.
"All of our guys can score. We've got a whole crowd that can score," Bradley said. "At any time, our starters are capable of being in double figues; that's one of the good things about all five our starters - any of them can score.
"We're there, we're in the (tournament) finals. I think we'll probably get Mundy's Mill. I think Mundy's Mill will be as good as anyone we've played, so that will be interesting. It'll be a test for us. We'll be playing against a guy bigger than anybody we've seen this year. They've got a 6-9 center and their guards are outstanding, so it should be fun."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.