DECATUR - The Southwest DeKalb girls showed why they're ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA against Heritage in the first round of the state playoffs on Saturday.
The Lady Panthers (27-2) had too much firepower for the Lady Patriots (19-9) and used their size and speed to cruise to a 71-26 victory on their home floor.
Heritage, making its first state playoff appearance in eight years, knew it had drawn a tough assignment in Southwest DeKalb. The Lady Panthers wasted no time showing why, starting the first quarter with an 18-2 run that ended when Heritage's Zaneta Gray drilled a long range 3-pointer to beat the first period buzzer.
In the first quarter, the Lady Panthers' pressure forced nine turnovers, which they converted into 10 points.
Up by 13 going into the second quarter, Southwest DeKalb extended its lead to 15 points before Heritage found its offensive rhythm for the only time in the game. Senior Neicey Lewis scored five straight points as the Lady Patriots controlled the game's tempo and sliced their deficit to 22-12.
In fact, Heritage appeared to catch a break when Southwest DeKalb center Charenee Stephens, a University of South Carolina signee, exited the game after picking up her third foul with 2:46 left until halftime.
But Southwest DeKalb is so good, it didn't need Stephens. She played sparingly the rest of the game.
Guard Eboni Mitchell took over the game, scoring the Lady Panthers' final six points of the half to establish a 32-15 halftime advantage.
Just like the first quarter, Southwest DeKalb came out firing on all cylinders in the third quarter. The Lady Panthers started the frame with a 20-2 run that put the contest away.
Heritage struggled so much against the Southwest DeKalb pressure that it managed only five shot attempts in the entire quarter and scored just five points. Lewis hit two free throws at the 4:56 mark and Sarah Herrington knocked down a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left in the frame.
The Lady Patriots turned the ball over 13 times, which the Lady Panthers converted into several easy fast break layups.
Lewis paced Heritage in scoring in her final game with seven points, while Herrington and Precious Elkins each chipped in five.
Jamesha Blake had 12 points off the bench to lead Southwest DeKalb. Mitchell finished with 11 and Brieona Warner chipped in 10, also off the bench.
Southwest DeKalb advances to play Northwest Whitfield in the second round of the state tournament.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at jeff.gillespie@ rockdalecitizen.com.