CONYERS - The Heritage boys showed just why they're the No. 1 team in Region 8-AAAA South on Friday night at Salem High School.
The Patriots (18-5 overall, 7-1 Region 8-AAAA South) put the pedal to the metal and never let off the gas against the Seminoles, collecting a 53-40 win over the Seminoles (7-15, 1-7).
The victory also ensured Heritage a first-round bye in the region playoffs and possibly locked up the subregion championship. Rockdale defeated Cedar Shoals on Friday night, giving the Patriots a two-game lead over the Jaguars and Bulldogs. The Patriots can cement the subregion championship with a win over the Jaguars on Tuesday.
Against Salem, Heritage had a sizable lead by the end of the first quarter when Blake Craft's 3-pointer at the buzzer made it 17-2. Things slowed down a little for the Patriots in the second quarter until Shakeem Mitchell's one-hand jam sent the crowd into a frenzy. The dunk gave the Patriots a 23-8 advantage.
The Seminoles cut the lead to 10 by halftime, which is where the spread remained for most of the game.
Salem finally cut it to single digits with 6:55 left to play, but the Patriots responded with a 8-0 run in the next 1:30 to go up 43-26.
Salem cut it back to 10 late in the game, but it was too little, too late.
After the game, Heritage coach Ron Bradley noted how important the fast start was for his team.
"We had a great first quarter. You always like to get off to a good start," he said. "We fizzled a little, but I thought our defense did a great job. We shut down (Zach) Roddenberry pretty good. We controlled the boards. Justin Jones had 19 rebounds and Juron Dobbs had 14. Plus, Blake Craft did a good job at point guard for us with nine assists. That's just about the story of it."
Salem coach Darren Wilkins tipped his hat to Heritage's talent, but he also gave kudos to his players for not giving up.
"I think our kids played hard tonight. We did a good job in the second half, playing man-to-man," he said. "We just got off to a terrible start. Still, I was real pleased with the way our kids kept fighting.
"Heritage is the best offensive team in the region. They have five guys that can score and three guys who can really score like crazy. They're a handful."
But it's been Heritage's defense that's been the big story lately. The Patriots have kept their opponents in the 40s the past five games - all wins.
Offensively, the Patriots were led by Mitchell and Jones who each scored 16. Dobbs added 13. Salem's leading scorer was David Raudebaugh with eight.
The win was Bradley's 1,344th career win and his 992nd in boys basketball.
Brandon Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.