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Title in reach
Heritage girls make first semifinal appearance

CONYERS - The Heritage girls tennis team is just one match away from its ultimate goal - playing for a state championship.

The Lady Patriots (20-3) will square off with Glynn in the Class AAAA semifinals this morning at Clayton County International Park in Jonesboro. The match should start about 10:45 a.m., right after the completion of the Class AAA semifinals.

Heritage earned its trip to Jonesboro with a thrilling 3-2 win over McIntosh in the quarterfinals. Down 2-1, the Lady Patriots received a three-set victory from Stephanie Humphries at No. 2 singles and a straight sets win from Alix Maloney at No. 3 singles to rally for the victory, giving the team its first trip to the semifinals in school history.

Glynn Academy is also coming off a 3-2 win over Bainbridge in the quarterfinals.

Heritage coach Brian Smith is looking for his team to utilize its resiliency again in the semifinals.

"The key for us is to head into our matches relaxed and confident, which is easier said than done when you're fighting for a state championship," Smith said. "When you get to his point, every team is talented. One of the biggest strengths of our team is our resiliency. To this point, when our backs have been against the wall, our girls collectively have found a way to win. We want to take that same mentality into Friday.

"For us to get to the championship, we are going to have to do the little things that got us here - play consistent, fight for every ball, trust our strokes, stay positive and play to win."

Heritage has enjoyed an advantage at doubles all season long with the No.1 combo of Callie Alford and Amanda Voyles and the No. 2 team of Kaylee Humphries and Keeli Smith.

At No. 1 singles, Taylor Maloney has turned another strong season for the Lady Patriots playing against tough competition.

Smith feels both teams will feel the pressure of playing in the state semifinals.

"A major factor in our matchup will be how both teams' players deal with pressure. Our girls have been in some big pressure situations just to get to this point," he said. "We've learned we cannot come in and press, get frustrated and try to do too much. We must relax, stay positive, make adjustments when needed and, without backing off, play our consistent style of tennis that got us here."

Smith is not troubled by the unusual starting time.

"The late morning starting time does not concern us," he said. "A lot of our girls have been training on Saturday mornings, so the time of our match should not be an issue for us."

If Heritage wins, it will face the winner of the Lakeside-Evans and Marist match in the championship. That match is set for this afternoon after the Class AAAAA girls semifinals conclude.

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