As the Cap-8 Conference hits the second half of its league schedule, games like the doubleheader between Heritage and Leesville Road get magnified as jockeying for conference finish and state playoff seeding intensifies.
Friday night saw host Heritage win both games against the third-place Pride.
The N&O No. 4 Huskies girls defeated No. 8 Leesville Road 66-36 while the No. 1 boys stayed undefeated with a 66-58 win over No. 9 Leesville Road.
Heritage’s halfcourt defense was suffocating against Leesville Road (12-4, 5-2). It wasn’t just limiting the Pride to a low shooting percentage, it was forcing turnovers and keeping Leesville to go several possessions without taking a shot.
“That’s our main focus in practice – defense,” said Heritage sophomore Cydney Johnson.
Heritage (14-2, 6-1) shot well from outside, connecting on 12 of 28 3-pointers (42.8 percent), and assisted on 15 of 26 field goals. Johnson (15 points), Demi Washington (17), Alana Brown (11) and Alecia Parnell (11) each reached double-figures.
“When you make shots it just gives you energy, and when you play defense like that you can go on some runs,” Heritage coach Pat Kennedy said. “I thought tonight we made some extra passes that lead to high shooting percentage and we knocked them down. That’s one thing we would like to see is continue that: make the unselfish pass and knock down those open jumpers. When we do that, we’re extremely hard to guard.”
Leesville Road post player Ashley Gill was a bright spot in the loss, scoring nine points to go with eight rebounds. Brittany Staves added a team-high 12 points.
“Our problems tonight were because Heritage caused them. I told our girls that I was proud of their effort, I’m not even disappointed with our attempt at execution,” Leesville coach Ben Daniels said. “Heritage is just so good, they make it tougher. They don’t give you any breaks.”
Heritage (17-0, 7-0) needed a last-second shot to hold off Leesville Road (10-6, 3-3) in the first meeting and needed a last-minute surge to pull off the victory Friday.
The Huskies got game-sealing plays from their unquestioned MVP, Jayden Gardner. He had 27 points on 12 of 17 shooting with 18 rebounds. On two free throw misses in the final minute, Gardner got the board to ensure Leesville didn’t complete a comeback.
“I feel like any time I go up and get it I can just snag it out of the air,” Gardner said. “This was great playoff-like experience.”
As the season progresses, the Huskies are finding new ways to win. Heritage was just 5 of 16 from 3, while Leesville came out of the gate shooting 50 percent from behind the arc at halftime.
Colton Reed added 15 points and Jarren McAllister had 11.
“It showed that we have to step up in leadership and that was a big thing in our communication,” Reed said. “We got punched really quick and we were kind of quiet and coach emphasized that we needed to be louder and talk. When our seniors and other guys led, it just shifted momentum our way.”
Leesville’s Alex Hunter had 16, D.J. Horne had 14 and Jalen Benjamin had 11.
“I just think the mental toughness to stay in it (was big). I told them in (the locker room), I think we lose this game last season,” Heritage coach Tilden Brill said.