ATLANTA - When Greater Atlanta Christian and Wesleyan square off in any situation, everyone in the gym knows what to expect: hard-nosed and intense basketball.
But in a region title matchup, those elements are multiplied by 100.
The two Class AA powers went head-to-head Saturday night for the Region 6-AA tournament title, and GAC pulled off the upset with a 49-39 victory over the state's top-ranked team, Wesleyan.
The Spartans, who beat Wesleyan four times on the way to last year's state title, had failed to defeat the Wolves in their first two meetings this season. But the third time went the other way.
GAC did it by acting tough in pressure situations, draining 12 of 16 from the free-throw line in what was a 24-point fourth quarter. Head coach Chan Means was pleased with his girls' performance.
"We are a pretty good free throw-shooting team and we had the right people on the line," Means said. "That's big. We have had games where (not making free throws) has hurt us. We haven't had a lot of close games though, and we have had a few now and I think we are getting better at it."
Means attributed the first two losses to Wesleyan this season to the fact that GAC simply "couldn't make shots."
That was definitely not the case on Saturday.
Leading the Spartans from the line was Mollie Mitchell, who finished with 12 points overall. Mitchell was fouled twice in the final minutes of the game and each time drained both free throws, making her perfect from the line.
Game-high scorer Briana Jordan finished with 16 points and went 5 of 8 from the line and drained three three-pointers. Jordan was also part of the all-region team with GAC teammate Chaney Means.
The crowds responded too, with each possession and each point. The game was much closer than the 10-point differential on the scoreboard at the end, making those free throws critical.
Wesleyan held an advantage for most of the game coming into the fourth quarter. It led by four at halftime and maintained that lead throughout the third quarter.
Trailing 29-25, Means knew his girls needed to elevate their game, and they would, outscoring Wesleyan 24-10 in the fourth quarter. Means wasn't shy either about the fact that playing the Wolves gives the Spartans an added motive.
"It's a great rivalry, it's what makes high school sports fun," said Means. "The girls are excited about it...we are talking about packed gyms with people who don't come out to ballgames for any other reason."
Wesleyan wasn't completely out of the game until the final seconds of the fourth quarter. Leading scorer and region player of the year Anne Marie Armstrong finished with 10 points and six rebounds, but was hindered in the later minutes of the game by her four fouls.
Getting the opposition into foul trouble is always a plus, but Means admitted it was not the basis of the Spartan game plan.
"What we try to do is just hold her down," said Means. "She's a great player, obviously, so we just try to minimize the damage."
When teams do the little things right though, as the Spartans did Saturday night, success like that seems to come easier to the more disciplined team.
"We are just trying to play hard," Means said. "If we just go out there and play hard and do what we are supposed to do then it is going to be easier to pick up fouls on kids."
Means also acknowledged the fact that his team cannot get complacent, in order to stay ready for the state tournament. After all, the Spartans want to defend their title well.
"This is fun, it's exciting but it's done. It's over," said Means. "We have won this before...this is just the first step towards the ultimate goal."