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Wesleyan back in finals with 54-50 win

SNELLVILLE - They were the kind of plays that might be expected from a team that has won two straight state championships.

An Elise Whitney steal. An offensive rebound, three-point play and steal from LeLe LeSeur. Two game-winning free throws by Carolyn Whitney. A game-saving block by Sarah Delk. Two game-clinching free throws by Kelly Hall.

Every key play that need to be made down the stretch was made by a Wesleyan girl as the Wolves defeated host South Gwinnett 54-50 on Thursday in the semifinals of the Deep South Classic. Wesleyan, ranked first in Class AA, beat the Comets just like it did in last year's Deep South title game, earning a spot in today's championship game vs. Briarcrest (Tenn.) at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

The 11-1 Wolves trailed Class AAAAA's No. 7 team by five points with 1:55 left before closing the game on a 9-0 run. They made 11 of 12 free throws in the game while South suffered through a 2-for-8 night at the line.

"It feels great (to have those clutch plays), especially against a team like South Gwinnett," Wesleyan girls coach Jan Azar said. "(South's) so well coached and they play so well together. I really commend our seniors. Even the ones who weren't on the court, just their presence helped. Those five seniors, they've been there, done this and I think that helped."

Neither team led by more than five points in the final three quarters, but South matched that lead on Mandi Dudish's 3-pointer with 1:55 left for a 50-45 edge. A basket by Anne Marie Armstrong answered quickly, then Elise Whitney made a huge steal against South's Alex Winchell.

On the ensuing trip LeSeur grabbed an air ball shot from a teammate, scored and was fouled to get within a point of South. Her free throw at 1:11 completed the three-point play and tied the game.

After a South timeout, LeSeur came up with a steal on the inbounds pass after her and two teammates scrapped for the ball on the baseline. Holding for one last shot, Wesleyan turned to reigning tournament MVP Carolyn Whitney.

The senior drove to the basket against Winchell - twice earlier she had been called for charges on similar drives against the South guard - and drew a blocking call on Winchell with 7.5 seconds left. Whitney then calmly made two free throws for a 52-50 edge.

"We don't panic in those situations," Whitney said. "We don't get flustered it all."

The Georgia Southern signee missed a free throw as a sophomore in the Region 8-AA final vs. Greater Atlanta Christian that cost her team the game, but she's been clutch since then.

"Every time she's been in that situation since then, she hasn't let us down," Azar said of Whitney.

South got a good look at a game-tying shot but Gia Lockett's layup attempt was swatted away by Delk and recovered by Hall, who was fouled and clinched the win with two more free throws.

LeSeur had 15 points and eight rebounds in the win, Carolyn Whitney had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists and Delk had 11 points. Emily Clarke led South with 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting and Lockett added 11 points.

"I just don't think our kids responded well in the end," South girls coach Mike Allison said. "We made too many turnovers. We made too many mistakes. If we want to be a good basketball team, we've got to eliminate those. It seems like every time we play a big game we've made too many mistakes at the end that hurt us."