BY Chris Goltermann
Heritage School teams reaped some of the rewards of tackling tough opponents over the holiday break on Friday with a pair of lopsided victories over Calvary Christian at home.
But junior Connor Thompson was truly zoned in for the Hawks in their final tune-up prior to Tuesday’s first showdown of the 2018-19 season with nemesis Holy Spirit in Atlanta.
Thompson, who has been referred to as “the glue” by head coach Joey Jerome in Heritage’s hopes of supplanting Holy Spirit from atop the basketball pedestal in GISA Class AAA, stuck a career-high 42 points on the GICAA opponent from Columbus, including eight of the Hawks’ 13 three-pointers in an 84-36 victory.
Returning starters Lance Terry, Kasen Jennings and Ebenezer Dowuona equally continued to be front and center in a blowout win that had Heritage roaring out to a 29-point opening quarter where all four Hawks shared the wealth.
Jennings, Terry and Thompson combined for six treys in the first, the majority coming from opposite corners on quick releases.
Yet as the game progressed, Thompson seemed unstoppable while going 6-for-10 from the field in the third as Hawks teammates began to keep an even more watchful eye out for the 6-foot-2 swingman.
The effort came with recent Heritage graduate and All-County standout Jake Canter watching from the stands as his eventual successor had his best game yet trying to fill a tough vacancy in the lineup.
“That was his best game yet,” Jerome said of Thompson, who bettered a previous career-best of 27 after arriving from Jackson High this season.
Along with a resounding 58-2 victory by Heritage School’s girls over Calvary after holding its opponent scoreless in the second half, the doubleheader provided a chance for both home teams to take momentum into Tuesday’s Region 1-AAA doubleheader against defending GISA state champions.
While the Lady Hawks battled undefeated Central Christian over the break, Heritage’s boys were coming off a gauntlet in tournament play that included games against Pebblebrook, Meadowcreek and Lithonia in addition to facing four out-of-state programs.
The Hawks defeated Lithonia 68-64 on Dec. 27 prior to single-digit losses to Class 7A state-ranked Meadowcreek (51-45) and West Virginia opponent John Marshall (62-59) in Wheeler’s Tournament of Champions event.
“They’ve been level-headed. They’ve had highs. They’ve had some lows. The schedule we’ve played is tough, especially where we are,” Jerome said. “It helps us playing in different crowds, different environments against different kids.”
Heritage took full advantage of a chance to stretch its legs early against Calvary. Terry scored 12 of his 22 points in the first quarter including two of his four dunks.
Jennings added two field goals and Duwuona equally responded with a three-point play among two of Heritage’s three college prospects from the Class of 2020 with Thompson.
Leading comfortably 51-27 at halftime, the Hawks put the game away in the third with a 22-point quarter that began with four consecutive baskets off assists between Jennings, Terry and Grant Evans.
“That’s what we practice. Move that basketball, don’t let it stick,” Jerome said. “If somebody’s open, get them the ball. And tonight, it was Connor’s night.”
With 20 points at the break following two more three-pointers and a perfect 5-for-5 effort at the line in the second quarter, Thompson kept finding ways to add to his total.
After a pair of field goals to begin the third, he completed a drive to the basket to match a previous career-high of 27 before eclipsing it with a layup off a steal.
Thompson had 35 points heading into the final period before adding three more field goals in the fourth, the last of which fittingly kissed multiple parts of the rim before going through.
Jennings finished with 12 points and Duwuona added eight for the Hawks, who improved to 9-6 overall.
Holy Spirit has taken a similar strategy of loading up its non-region schedule, playing Class 7A opponents McEachern, Wheeler, Westlake and Meadowcreek in addition to out of state foes.
The two-time defending GISA champions return junior Anthony Edwards among a roster that includes seven seniors.
Heritage rested seniors Dylan McLean and Patrick Griffies on Friday while also without senior Gridley Pendergrast, rotating in Evans, Henry Arnall and Reece Overhault against Calvary among seven players that saw playing time.
“I feel like we’re playing really good. We need to get healthy. That’s the biggest thing right now,” Jerome said.
In the girls game, Heritage held Calvary to a single field goal in the first quarter in a lopsided 58-2 effort where the Lady Hawks seemed to scoop up every rebound on both sides of the floor.
Olivia Ayers and Tricia Underwood led a 33-2 run in the opening quarter with six points apiece and teammates Aaliyah Ferrell and Carissa Vazquez each chimed in with two field goals in the period including a three-pointer.
Head coach D.J. Clay rotated 15 players in and out of the lineup with success. Danielle Sudick added six points between the second and third quarters and Vazquez closed out a 11-point performance with five points in the third.
The Lady Hawks (8-1) finished with 22 field goals in the win and was 9 of 16 from the free-throw line.
Ayers and Ferrell each finished with seven points while Sudick, Underwood and Emily Walker added six apiece.
Heritage also received scoring efforts from Sister Rhodes (4), Lilly Arnall (2), Zada Smith (2), Frances Powell (2), Emily Cushing (2) and Michaela Mikko (1).