A rivalry contest is brewing in Rockdale County Saturday afternoon, as the Bulldogs travel across the county to take on Heritage on the hardwood.
The Bulldogs and Patriots will renew their annual rivalry today, with the girls varsity basketball teams taking the court at 4:30 p.m. at Heritage.
The Lady Bulldogs enter today’s contest with a 2-3 overall record and a 2-1 mark in region play, fresh off a 67-50 victory over Druid Hills on Tuesday.
Heritage is still trying to find its first victory of the season after starting off the year 0-5, but in this rivalry contest, anything can, and usually does, happen.
“I haven’t gotten to watch tape, but we’ve kept up with them and have been playing attention,” Rockdale coach Gladys King said. “I’m ready for the opportunity to play them.”
King said that the Lady Bulldogs wanted to take away the hot shooting of Heritage guard Damali Thomas, who scored 17 points against Loganville in the Lady Patriots’ last home contest before scoring eight points in Heritage’s 59-16 loss to Gainesville earlier this week.
“We’re going to need shooting against them and defensively, we have to take away their perimeter shooting and make it an inside game,” King said. “We want them to have to pound the ball inside and make it difficult for them when they get in there.”
While Heritage has yet to earn a victory this season, coach Lauren Chambers said the Lady Patriots are ready for the rivalry contest.
“We are all excited,” Chambers said. “We’re planning a white-out on Saturday and we’re expecting a large crowd. Having the fan support behind us is going to be huge. With any rivalry game, a lot of excitement is brought in from the players, parents and fans, so it’s amped up our spirits.”
The Lady Patriots will be tasked with finishing shots around the rim against Rockdale, something that Chambers said her players are still working on.
“The most important thing we need to do is to convert our shots on offense,” she said. “Again, starting off with good defensive intensity from the get-go is a must and we need to limit them to one-shot opportunities. If we can do that, and limit our turnovers, we can play pretty good basketball.”
Chambers said a win over the Lady Bulldogs would be a season-defining moment for Heritage.
“Anytime you can beat your rival at home it means a lot,” Chambers said. “This year has been a tough one already, but getting that rivalry win would make a victory even sweeter. I think that it would get us moving in a positive direction heading into the winter break. We’re ready for them to come over to our house and show them what Heritage pride really means.”
But, the Lady Bulldogs won’t go down easy.
“It’s very important to me as a graduate of Rockdale County to get a win against them,” King said. “It’s always a pleasure to win and it’s a great opportunity to play against them. The Bulldogs always want to take down the patriots and we’re going to do what we need to do.”
The other side of today’s rivalry contest will put mentor vs. mentee, as Heritage coach Ralph Denmark faces his former team for the first time.
Denmark spent five seasons as the Bulldogs’ assistant basketball coach, helping Rockdale reach the state championship game in 2011.
This season, Denmark and the Patriots are 7-1, and a win over the Bulldogs would increase their win streak to three games.
“I’d definitely love to come out on top, but at the same time, I wish a great amount of success to the kids at Rockdale and their program as a whole,” Denmark said.
Denmark said fans may see some similarities between the two programs, but he hopes his team’s defense will play a big role for the Patriots.
“Of course, having coached there, our philosophies are going to be similar,” he said. “They want to push the ball and play pressure defense like we do. It should be pretty evenly matched, but I hope the atmosphere, and our defensive intensity, will give us the edge.”
Heritage enters the contest after holding on for a 91-87 road victory over Gainesville. The Bulldogs also come into today’s game on a high note after defeating Druid Hills Tuesday for their first win of the year.
“I’ll be honest, Heritage is our biggest rival and this game is special to me,” Rockdale coach Alen Williams said. “Their head coach knows a lot of basketball. I love to see (Coach Denmark) be successful, just not on the days we’re playing them.”
Denmark echoed his former mentor’s sentiments.
“The boys are always competitive, and this rivalry is very competitive,” he said. “This game is played at a different level of focus on determination. We’re amped up, and I know the kids at Rockdale feel the same.”
Game time is set for 4:30 p.m.