COVINGTON - The cream is starting to rise to the top in Area 8-AAAA girls soccer.
As the season begins to wind down, Heritage and Salem are sitting on top of the leaderboard undefeated with six area wins each as both teams have four games left.
The two teams are scheduled to meet in what could be a battle of the unbeatens for the Area 8-AAAA championship in their final area match of the season at Salem at 6 p.m. March 31.
"Winning the area is huge - not only for school pride, but more importantly for seeding purposes in the state playoffs. We want to host a state playoff game here at home," Heritage coach Chad Suddeth said. "Again, we learned the hard way last year by matching up with the (Class AAAA) No. 1 ranked team in the state (Marist) at their place in the first round of the state playoffs.
"That's about as tough a draw as you can get, but we played ourselves into that position. The teams that win their area earn quite a few advantages - they are guaranteed to play a home game - and an easier opponent - in the first round. It's yet to be determined if we can play ourselves into that position - that would be nice."
However, there are still some quality area matchups for both teams before that happens.
Heritage still has to face a capable Loganville team on the road tonight at 6 before playing Monroe Area and Rockdale at home.
Loganville is in fourth place, with six games left on its schedule, with an area record of 3-1 and 6-2 overall.
If Heritage hopes to make it to the end of the season without an area loss, it cannot overlook Loganville.
"We can't put the cart ahead of the horse. The girls understand that we have to get by a very strong Loganville team (to)night. That's the only thing we are focused on right now," Suddeth said.
Loganville beat Heritage 3-2 last year after nine rounds of penalty kicks.
"Trust me, our girls learned from that experience and understand the process - we must win the next game in order to have a chance to play in bigger games," Suddeth said. "We definitely have our work cut out for us."
The other two teams, Monroe Area and Rockdale, cannot be discounted even though both teams are 1-4 in area play.
"We don't overlook anybody," Suddeth said. "We will have to go out and play very well to win those two matches - both will be big challenges for us."
Salem, on the other hand, has an easier route to its match against Heritage without an area loss, playing Clarke Central, Winder-Barrow and Cedar Shoals.
Of the three, Clarke Central is the only team with wins so far with a 2-1 area record.
Winder-Barrow is 0-2 while Cedar Shoals is 0-4.
"That Salem game is important," Suddeth said. "I'm not sure how many area championships we've won in girls soccer. The last area championship was in 2005 - coincidentally, the last year we beat Salem."
Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils