CONYERS - In a battle of state-ranked soccer squads, the Heritage girls relied on a set play to knock Oconee County from the ranks of the unbeaten on Saturday at Evans Memorial Stadium.
Junior Constance Bates scored on a free kick with 17:04 left in the contest to lift the Lady Patriots (7-0 overall) to a 2-1 victory over the Lady Warriors (6-1). Heritage entered the game ranked No. 11 in Class AAAA, while Oconee County was ranked No. 3 in Class AAA.
"It's a very big win for us. We've been thinking we might be for real and this was one of those games that would test if we're as good as we thought we were. We've got a good thing going," Heritage girls coach Chad Suddeth said. "I'm proud of the girls, their work has paid off. We've still got a lot of work to do, but this prepares us for region play.
"This was our third game this week and the girls showed a lot of guts today because their legs were dead. Wednesday night (against Shiloh) was a very physical match and we got banged up. We got banged up again today, but the good teams persevere; and that's what these girls are doing."
Bates scored on a free kick in the middle of the field from 22 yards put. Her perfectly placed shot beat the Oconee County keeper under the crossbar.
"We've worked so hard on set plays, and that was really the first opportunity we've had to run one of our free kicks in a game," Suddeth said. "I was so excited for the girls to execute it, especially for the game-winner."
In the first half, the Lady Patriots had the wind at their back and took a 1-0 lead on Sydney Smith's goal inside the far post in 35th minute.
"It was a tale of two halves. It was definitely a lot easier playing the wind at your back," Suddeth said. "But again, we faced the adversity. We had the wind in our face (in the second half), it was really cold and they were coming at us with everything they had, and the girls played well. They're doing a good job of keeping all the stuff out of their heads and just trying to play.
"I'm not saying we don't have anything to work on. We still have a lot of work to do, but we're getting there. We're poised to make a run in the region."
Oconee County tied the game on a shot in the box with 27:18 left in the second half.
The Lady Warriors almost scored again three minutes later, but Heritage keeper Melissa Drish made a point-blank save to keep the game tied.
Heritage will open Region 8-AAAA South play on Tuesday against Eastside in Covington.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at email@example.com.