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Lady Patriots open tourney with victory

ATLANTA - The Lady Patriots took care of business Saturday afternoon by topping Druid Hills 42-31 in the opening round of the DeKalb County Holiday Tournament at Cross Keys High School.

Despite a brilliant performance by Shanequah Ferguson, who scored a game-high 25 for Druid Hills, Heritage (5-5) controlled the game from the start.

The Lady Patriots never trailed, leading by at least five throughout the game. As a result, they will next face Tucker at 3 p.m. Monday at Southwest DeKalb High School.

"I'm not happy; I think we can play better defense than that," Heritage coach Dave LaBarrie said. "I didn't think we played good defense, but we stepped it up in the fourth quarter."

Overall, Heritage - playing without three starters due to injury - forced 13 turnovers, resulting in 10 points. Conversely, the Lady Patriots committed eight turnovers, including just three in the second half alone.

"That was big," LaBarrie said. "I thought my bench was going to do a little better, but I think the heat in the gym had something to do with it, so I was concerned."

After three field goals by Sarah Herrington in the first quarter, the Lady Patriots built a comfortable 15-4 lead.

Herrington finished with a team-high 15 points.

However, Ferguson - who was held scoreless in the opening stanza - tallied all 11 points scored for the Lady Red Devils in the second, closing the gap 22-15 entering halftime.

Her teammate, 6-foot-6 center Avery Winchester, added nine of her 13 blocks in the first half.

"(Winchester) in the middle was a factor; anybody that size is a factor," LaBarrie said. "So, we had to find other ways to score."

Ferguson picked up where she left off in the third by scoring another 11 points. After her two free throws to end the half, Druid Hills trailed 33-28 entering the final quarter.

But Heritage's defense was ready in the final eight minutes, allowing just one field goal. Druid Hills' first point - another free throw by Ferguson - came at the 4:05 mark.

By then, the Lady Patriots led 39-29, closing the game by controlling the clock with sound ball movement and superb communication.

Jana Dixon recorded a double-double for the Lady Patriots with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Heritage's Jasmine Middlebrooks and Anraya Palmer combined for eight points and six boards.

Jason Murdock can be reached at jason.murdock@rockdalecitizen.com.