RINGGOLD - Heritage's Shelby Mullinax just might be the top returning girls' soccer player in Region 7-AAAA this season, but on Tuesday night the junior proved that her heroics aren't confined to just the soccer field.
Mullinax scored seven of her 10 points in the final 4:44 of the game and came up with two huge steals in the final minute to help the Lady Generals to their seventh straight win, an important 55-53 subregion home victory win over LaFayette on Senior Night.
Heritage (18-5, 6-3) trailed virtually the entire first three-and-a-half quarters, but the Lady Ramblers, who hit four three-pointers in the first quarter alone and led by as many as nine in the second half, went cold from the floor in the fourth quarter, allowing the Lady Generals to claw their way back into the game.
Mullinax gave her team a 47-46 with a basket in the paint, and she drained a three-pointer on the next possession to give her team a four-point lead with just under 2:30 to play.
Two Michaela Suttles free throws and a lay-up by Shelby Narmore to tie the game for LaFayette (11-14, 2-8) with 1:53 remaining, but Hayley McKinney hit both ends of a one-and-one with 1:31 to go to put Heritage back in front, setting the stage for Mullinax's thievery in the closing 60 seconds.
Mullinax took the ball away from LaFayette on back-to-back possessions, leading to a pair of free throws by Jada Hubbard that boosted the lead to 54-50.
"Shelby can be as good as she wants to be," Heritage head coach Eddie Bryant said. "Soccer is her main sport, but she plays basketball because she enjoys it and she's our best rebounder with nearly 450 in the last two years. But if she can score for us, that only makes us stronger as a team."
After LaFayette missed on a three-point attempt, Hubbard sunk one more free throw with 15 seconds, increasing the lead to five points and putting the game out of reach. LaFayette's Jessica Ingram's connected from the behind the arc just before the final horn to account for the game's final points.
"We came out kind of flat tonight," added Bryant, whose team trailed 18-12 after one quarter and 32-24 at halftime. "LaFayette really came out and played well, but we finaly got some intensity in the fourth quarter and started making some plays. Overall, a win is a win."
Hubbard finished with 17 points, while Alex Belk added 13. The duo combined for all the points in a key 10-2 run late in the third quarter that chopped LaFayette's lead to 40-39 entering the final period of play.
Suttles had 12 points and 16 rebounds for the Lady Ramblers. Tava Young had 15 points and Chelsea Ludy finished with eight points, including a pair of threes in the opening quarter. However, LaFayette made just one field goal during a 5:42 span of the fourth quarter that proved to be their undoing.
"(Heritage) made some shots in the last three minutes of the game and we didn't," LaFayette head coach Matt Swanson explained. "That was the story of the game, but win or lose, I was proud of our girls. I like where we're at right now, and I think we can beat anyone (in the region tournament), but we can also lose to anybody, so we have to be ready to play and not take anyone for granted."
While the game was the final one of the regular season for the Lady Ramblers, Heritage will face Northwest Whitfield in their regular season finale on Thursday. A win would tie the Lady Generals for the No. 2 spot in the subregion and put them one win shy of the program's first 20-win campaign.
Bryant pointed to seniors April Evans, Hayley McKinney, and Bridget Roeder as three important reasons for the turnaround.
"Those three only won three games their first year here, but we've improved our win total each year, and they've had a lot to do with that," he said. "We've gotten better players the last few years and we've built the program up, but those three have really build the blocks up on the foundation we layed a while back. They're very good basketball players, but they're quality people too."