If having to face off with top-seeded and third-ranked Northwest Whitfield wasn't enough of a task, the Heritage Lady Generals had something else to content with during Saturday's Area 6-AAAA championship match.
A best-of-five title match is grueling enough, but having to play a best-of-five after having played four other tough matches earlier in the day proved to be too tough of an order and Heritage would have to settle for the area's runner-up trophy when they left Ridgeland High School in the early evening.
After taking down sixth-seeded Southeast Whitfield in a first-round match this past Thursday, Heritage passed their first test on Saturday morning with a 25-20, 19-25, 25-14 win over second-seeded LaFayette in the winners' bracket semifinals.
The Lady Generals would ride the momentum of the win over the Lady Ramblers into the winners' bracket final were they took the opening set off of the Lady Bruins. However, Northwest recovered and went on the score the win, 20-25, 25-22, 25-9.
Falling to the elimination bracket, Heritage would eventually face LaFayette in a rematch, which the Lady Generals narrowly won, 25-21 and 25-23, to punch their ticket to the finals.
Heritage dug down deep in the opening set against the Lady Bruins, leading 8-2 and 20-11 before holding on for a 25-19 victory.
But despite the first set win, the tide began to turn as the Lady Generals' legs began to show signs of weariness, having already played eight tough games earlier in the day.
Northwest responded by storming back to win the next two sets by identical 25-11 scores. Heritage put on a valiant effort in the fourth set, but the Lady Bruins would not be denied, winning the final set, 25-21, to clinch the area crown and the No. 1 seed for the state tournament.
"We knew coming into today that if we, at any point, weren't successful in beating a team, that we were going to have to play them again and we were going to have to come out of the loser's bracket," Heritage head coach Kari Cooper said. "We just ran out of energy and that was really the biggest thing."
It was a big day for Kali Brown, who had 47 kills and 48 digs on the day. Macy Harris picked up 37 kills and 35 digs, while Ariana Camp collected 19 kills. Ashley Clinton dished out a total of 110 assists on the afternoon.
Brown was named to the 6-AAAA All-Area second team, while Clinton earned honorable mention honors.
"We're playing better than we have in recent weeks," Cooper added. "We've finally come together as a team and we've found a lineup that works We just need to get our serve receives back to where it was at certain points during the season. We are making our offense a little hard to run by not getting those first passes in."
Heritage (29-13) will open the Class AAAA state tournament on Wednesday against Jefferson. A win would either send the Lady Generals to Cartersville to face the Lady Canes or give them another home match against Chestatee.
LaFayette relegated to No. 3 seed, Ridgeland eliminated
The Lady Ramblers entered Saturday seeded second in the area tournament and ranked eighth in the state, but had to ultimately settle for a No. 3 seed in the state tournament.
After the three-set loss to Heritage in their first match of the day, the Lady Ramblers coasted past Pickens, 25-10 and 25-18, before defeating Southeast Whitfield, 25-17 and 25-19. However, they couldn't get past the Lady Generals in the rematch and will be the area's No. 3 seed when the playoffs start on Wednesday.
Jillian Morgan had 45 kills and 11 blocks on the day, while Katie Dixon added 16 kills and 29 digs. Gracie Stier had 18 kills. Emily Redden picked up 73 assists and Bailey Tarvin had 50 total digs.
Morgan and Dixon were also named to the All-Area first team, while Tarvin and Redden were second team picks by the area's coaches.
LaFayette (40-12) will be involved in a top 10 match-up in the opening round as the Orange-and-Black will play at sixth-ranked North Oconee. A win could give the Lady Ramblers a home match against LaGrange, but a trip to second-ranked Marist seems the most likely scenario for the second round.
Host Ridgeland, who entered the tournament as the fourth seed, lost to Northwest Whitfield in its first match on Saturday, 25-10 and 25-14. The season would end for the Lady Panthers in the next round with a 25-23, 25-15 loss to Southeast.
Individual statistics were not available as of press time.
Jayda Jenkins was named to the All-Area first team. Ridgeland ended its season a game over .500 at 21-20.