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Heritage sweeps Apalachee in soccer

CONYERS - Arielle Gunderson and Courtney Hodges have been the two most dangerous players on the Heritage girl’s soccer team in 2012. It’s only fitting that in a key Region 8-AAAA game Friday against Apalachee, the pair figured prominently. Gunderson, a University of Florida signee, left a perfect pass for Hodges and the forward ripped the go-ahead goal with 10:53 left in Heritage’s 3-1 victory.

The win was a bit of revenge for the Class AAAA No. 7 Patriots (9-1-1, 5-1), who lost to Apalachee in Winder last year.

“(Apalachee is) a good team. I know they wanted it just as much as we did,” said Heritage coach Chad Suddeth, whose team won its fourth consecutive game. “Proud of the girls for battling through it.”

The Patriots had five shots on goal within the first 28 minutes of the second half, but couldn’t snap a 1-1 tie. Hodges, a Clayton State signee, had a chance at the 12-minute mark, but Wildcats keeper Paige Stowe made a great play kicking the ball away to keep it even. Just over a minute later, Gunderson and Hodges hooked up for the eventual game-winner.

“That particular goal…I pulled Arielle and the midfielders and said’ dribble straight at (the defense),’” Suddeth said. “It was a beautiful touch (and Gunderson and Hodges) do have a special connection together. It’s a special connection.”

With 5:40 left, Haley Elliot was fouled in the penalty area, leading to a penalty shot, and Patriots’ keeper Mady Carter came out of her net to score and make it 3-1.

As it has done several times this season, Heritage jumped on top first. Abbey Dunlop sent a ball deep into Apalachee territory and Hodges came down with it and slipped a goal past Stowe to make it 1-0 at the 37:19 mark. The visitors had only three shots on goal in the opening half, yet made one of those opportunities count. With 20:58 left until halftime, Apalachee (5-4-1, 3-1) cleared the ball out of its zone and Kate Winegarner out-ran the Patriots’ defense and beat Carter for the equalizer.

The Heritage boys made it a sweep in the nightcap, getting Chris Raines’ second goal with five minutes to play to win 2-1.

Heritage, which had to endure a one hour and 17-minute lightning delay, stayed unbeaten at 5-0-1 in its last six games, and also stayed perfect in region play at 6-0.

“It’s almost impossible to get 16, 17, 18-year olds to get up for a game, decompress, (and) get right back up after a weather delay,” said Patriots coach Brandon Stewart. “I’m proud of our mental toughness, we’re grinding out these wins.”

Apalachee (2-6-2, 1-3 Region 8-AAAA) scored with five minutes left until halftime, but Raines answered four minutes later with his first goal, a header off a rebound from a Mauricio Reyes shot that made it 1-1. Raines’ second goal came off a pretty feed from Gustavo Martinez.

“Great goal,” Phillips said of the game-winner.