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Hard task in girls' state basketball tournament openers

CONYERS - For the Heritage and Salem girls basketball teams, the Class AAAA state playoffs start today with tough road matchups.

The Lady Patriots (19-8) will visit Southwest DeKalb (26-2) in their first-round game at 4 p.m. today, while the Lady Seminoles (20-8) square off with Mays (16-8) at 6 p.m. in Atlanta.

Heritage at Southwest DeKalb

Heritage coach Dave LaBarrie knows his team has drawn a tough assignment in the opening round.

The Lady Panthers are ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA and won the Region 6-AAAA title last weekend. The Lady Patriots finished second in Region 8-AAAA after falling to county Salem 60-50 last Saturday.

"They're ranked No. 1 in the state for a reason. We're going to have our hands full; that's for sure," LaBarrie said. "They have an excellent coach, but we're not going to roll over and die."

Southwest DeKalb is coming off a 61-58 victory over Mays in the Region 6-AAAA championship game. The Lady Panthers will present several challenges to Heritage, which is making its first state playoff appearance in eight seasons.

"They've got the complete package. They do a lot of pressure and they do a lot of fundamental things," LaBarrie said. "They're also pretty big, and that's a concern for us."

One player the Lady Patriots will have to contend with is senior forward Charenee Stephens, who already has signed with the University of South Carolina. Against Mays, Stephens had 17 points and 24 rebounds.

For the Lady Patriots to have a chance, LaBarrie is stressing two things to his squad.

"We've got to control the tempo of the ball game. Whoever controls the tempo is going to win it," he said. "We've got to bring our 'A' game, no exceptions. Our 'B' game doesn't do it against a team like this."

Salem at Mays

The Salem girls are no strangers to the state tournament, making their fourth straight trip this year.

However, unlike last year, the Lady Seminoles (20-8) will play the first-round game on the road. That might be a good omen for Salem, which is 0-2 at home in first-round and 1-0 on the road. Two years ago, Salem won 74-69 at Rome in the first round.

Mays (16-8) pulled off a shocker in the Region 6-AAAA Tournament, edging Marist 62-61 in the semifinals. The Lady Raiders then almost upended No. 1-ranked Southwest DeKalb in the championship game.

Salem coach Bill Roberts said he's expecting a fast-paced game.

"Mays is quick and physical," Roberts said. "Region 6 is very strong, if not the strongest region in the state."

Despite the tough task at hand, Roberts said he likes the way the two teams match up.

"I like the matchup with them because they will want to run and transition like us," he said. "It should be a great game to watch."

Roberts said the key against the Lady Raiders will be his team's ability to execute and play its kind of game.

"The key for us is to stay focused and play our game," Roberts said. "We want to establish an inside-out game early and make them defend our size."

Brandon Evans contributed to this story.

Jeff Gillespie can be reached at jeff.gillespie@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: Basketball playoffs

Class AAAA girls

Today

Heritage at Southwest DeKalb, 4 p.m.

Salem at Mays, 6 p.m.