Heritage certainly looked like a top seed Thursday, sweeping Salem 25-13, 25-14.
The Patriots, who finished the regular season with a 10-0 record in Area 8-AAAA and secured the league's top seed for next week's tournament, jumped out to a 15-5 lead in game two, thanks to three kills and an ace from Taylor Bailey.
But the Seminoles, who finished at the opposite end of the spectrum at 0-10 in the area, climbed back in it, scoring seven of the next eight points to cut the lead to 16-12.
That's when Hillary Norman took over. Following a kill by Peyton Farrish that made it 17-12, Norman had three aces as part of a 7-0 run that effectively ended Salem's upset bid.
"She did a good job serving; she's been working on her serve all year," Heritage coach David Buddenbaum said. "It paid off today."
"I just think we lack that drive; we got to develop that killer instinct," Salem coach Chanestia Davis said. "I think that's the key. (But) in every game, they have made improvement."
In Game 1, Heritage went up 7-2 early on the strength of an ace and kill by Mikayla Charles and Rachel Jubran's ace and assist on Bailey's spike. Again, the host Seminoles hung around, getting an ace and kill from Kelsey Simmons, the only Salem player to score more than one offensive point in the two games, to close to within 12-7. The Patriots took charge with the help of several players, including Erica Perry (block-kill, assist) Rachel Werry (ace, kill) and Olivia Wasdin (kill) to go up 21-9.
"Our goal is to gel as a team," Buddenbaum said. "(There are) 15 girls on the team, it's important for them to feel wanted, (to) feel important. Tonight, we had contributions from all 15 girls. We need playing time from everybody; everybody's important."
Clarissa Morphis, one of six Salem seniors honored before the game, had a kill to make it 24-13 late in Game 1, but Arabia Umrani's kill was the final tally in a 25-13 win.
"It's going to be hard for me to see them go," Davis said of her senior class. "We've been through a lot. I wish them the best in all their endeavors. Hopefully. they'll continue the game."
While Salem is hoping to get hot and upset a few top seeds, Heritage is the favorite in next week's area tournament. After completing a perfect regular season, Buddenbaum had his eye on the top competition.
"It's Rockdale, Habersham and Clarke, probably, (and) Monroe has been playing well," he said. "I think if we take care of business and do what we're supposed to do we should be fine."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.