CONYERS - At this time of the high school basketball season, it's all about teams positioning themselves for the stretch run.
Need proof? Look no further than the Heritage boys and the Salem girls.
The Heritage boys (13-6, 3-1 in 8-AAAA South) chalked up their ninth win in 11 games by cruising to an 81-52 win over county rival Salem (5-15, 0-4) on Tuesday night.
The Lady Seminoles (18-2, 4-0) maintained their lead in 8-AAAA South with a key road win, fending off a challenge from the Lady Patriots (10-8, 2-2) to collect a 57-44 victory.
The Heritage boys' red-hot long-distance shooting was the difference early. Miles Harris, who finished with 18 points, hit three of Heritage's five first-quarter 3-pointers.
The Patriots were 8 of 9 (88.9 percent) from the field in the first quarter. Their only miss was on a long-range bomb.
Senior Shakeem Mitchell, one of the Patriots' top scorers, failed to score a point and didn't even take a shot in the first frame.
It didn't even matter.
With Miles and Garry Peters combining for 16 points, the Patriots built a comfortable 26-8 lead, closing out the quarter with a 14-0 run.
"We had a good shooting percentage tonight. We shot the ball real well," Heritage coach Ron Bradley said. "Miles hit some bombs for us in the first quarter and got us off to a good start. We played good basketball, we were clicking on all cylinders."
In the second quarter, Mitchell got involved in the Heritage offense, scoring 10 of his game-high 24 points. The Patriots held a 42-24 lead at the half.
"At halftime, you worry about whether or not you can go back out and play that way again," Bradley said. "We went out and played good basketball again. We only had three turnovers in the second half; everything just went right for us."
It didn't hurt either that Heritage had a 45-33 advantage on the boards.
Senior Justin Jones had a game-high 16 rebounds for the Patriots to go along with 12 points and four blocked shots. Peters also had a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards.
"He had 16 rebounds, four blocked shots and no telling how many intimidations, probably another 10," Bradley said of Jones. "He's such a force inside, it's great to have him on the floor."
Antony Armstrong paced Salem with 12 points, while Jonathan Slade added nine off the bench.
In the girls game, with Salem standout Precious Elkins struggling to find shots, the Heritage girls kept the game close.
The Lady Patriots trailed by only four at 40-36 after Shaddai Wiggs' free throw with 5:20 left in the game.
After that, Elkins, who was scoreless in the third quarter, took over the game for Salem, scoring 11 of her game-high 19 points as the Lady Seminoles pulled away for their seventh straight victory.
"Well, I think that Heritage did a good job of defending Precious in the first and in turn we went with other options," Salem coach Bill Roberts said. "Ariel (Wynter) and Shardai (Harrison) gave us scoring options in the first half. Again, in the third period, we struggled getting Precious the ball in good scoring situations, and they cut the lead to five. However, Ariel did a good job of getting good position inside to help us keep the lead.
"The plan going into the fourth (quarter) was to get Precious the ball inside. Once they got a little complacent defending her, it made it a little easier to get her the ball and she started heating up. They also started to press us full court, so we would send Precious to the ball so she had the ball in her hands more often. Once we were in the one-and-one and the double bonus, she got to the line a lot and scored from the free-throw line."
Harrison scored seven of her 10 points in the first quarter to help Salem build a 14-7 lead.
Wynter tallied 12 of her 17 points in the second and third quarters as the Lady Seminoles kept their lead intact. She also chipped in eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
Sarah Herrington fired in a game-high 17 points for Heritage.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.