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Pats battle through slop for another trip to state meet

CONYERS - Heritage's Aaron Worthy tuned up for next week's state meet in Carrollton with an impressive performance in the Region 8-AAAA cross country championship Saturday at the Georgia International Horse Park.

Worthy, a senior, overcame the rain and sloppy conditions to win the boys individual title for the Patriots with a time of 17 minutes, 25 seconds.

In addition, the Heritage squads added another year to their impressive streaks of qualifying for the state meet.

In the boys race, the Patriots placed third behind Winder-Barrow and Habersham Central to claim their 13th straight trip to Carrollton.

In the girls race, Lady Patriots held off Clarke Central by two points to claim fourth place and earn their 13th consecutive invitation to the state meet.

"You always want to keep your tradition going," Heritage coach Brian Smith said. "The kids did a great job of keeping our streaks intact. They worked hard in the summer and they continued to work hard during the season. It's a good reward to be able to line up with the best in the state by keeping the streaks alive."

Like most of his victories this season, Worthy waited until the end of the race to make his move. He passed Monroe Area's Spencer Cape entering the final loop on the course and then pulled away for a seven-second victory.

Worthy's victory gave Heritage back-to-back individual boys region champions. Last year, Jake Hudson took the individual honor as the Patriots also claimed the team title.

"We're real proud of Aaron's effort today," Smith said. "We just discovered the guy from Monroe Area at the Last Chance Invitational (in Carrollton) last week. Aaron was up to the task today. He turn it into an 800-meter race again by making his move as they started the final half mile in the last loop.

"Last year, he was our No. 4 runner, but this year has stepped up and assumed the role as our No. 1 runner. We're looking for big things out of him next week at the state meet."

Winder-Barrow took the boys team title with 42 points, while Habersham Central was second at 51. Heritage took third with 85 points and Loganville claimed the final state berth in fourth at 122.

Andrew Connors (16th, 18:57), Brandon Harrison (17th, 18:59), Zach Landy (22nd, 19:15) and Mike Dontfraid (29th, 19:46) rounded out the top five for Heritage.

"We were a little bit inconsistent throughout our (boys) lineup today, but it wasn't for a lack of effort," Smith said. "We gave it our best shot. We've been battling Winder-Barrow and Habersham Central all year. Winder-Barrow was the better team today, but we're certainly proud of our guys for qualifying for state and extending our streak."

Dontavius Wright turned in the top effort for Salem in 24th with a time of 19:24. The Seminoles finished 10th in the team standings at 271.

Rockdale placed 11th overall with a team score of 324. Forrest Freeman posted the top time for the Bulldogs in 58th at 21:55.

Clarke Central was fifth at 143 points followed by Apalachee (147), Monroe Area (192), Madison County (212), Cedar Shoals (221), Salem and Rockdale.

In the girls race, the battle for the final state berth between Heritage and Clarke Central came down to the No. 5 runners.

Alexa Grimes finished three spots of Clarke Central's No. 5 to put the Lady Patriots in front by two points. Heritage trailed Clarke Central by a point through both squad's top four runners.

Sophomore Simone Worthy had the Lady Patriots' top finish in 10th at 22:39 followed by Lena Killingsworth in 15th at 23:19. They were the top two local finishers.

Alyssa Clingenpeel (30th, 25:44), Kate Reach (31st, 25:45) and Grimes (32nd, 26:10) completed Heritage's top five.

"The girls have just found a way every meet this year, going back to area (NewRock) meet where they won by a point," Smith said. "They clawed and scratched their way to state today. We knew it was going to be tough. We knew Winder-Barrow was going to be dominant. Loganville won the region last year and we knew they'd be tough again. Our girls just did what they had to do."

Winder-Barrow ran way with the girls title, placing all seven of its runners in the top nine and tallying 17 points. Loganville was second at 83 followed by Habersham Central (103), Heritage, Clarke Central, Cedar Shoals (139) and Apalachee (155).

Winder-Barrow's Amanda Cope won the girls individual title in 20:31.

Neither Rockdale nor Salem had enough runners to post a team score in the girls race. Rockdale's Caitlyn VanHeest turned in the third best local finish behind Worthy and Killingsworth in 24th place at 24:48.

Denique Lindsay recorded Salem's top effort with a time of 27:38 in 41st.