Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. North Gwinnett's Stephanie Wheeler wrestles for the ball with Peachtree Ridge's Erika Waters on Friday.
SUWANEE -- By the time Stephanie Wheeler fouled out she had done just enough.
The North Gwinnett senior did not leave the game quietly, storming to the bench, shouting, but she was glad she lasted as long as she did in a game with five total players fouling out.
"At least there were just 10 seconds left," Wheeler said. "There wasn't much time, so I felt better."
And she left her team in a good position, up 60-53, and North eventually outlasted Peachtree Ridge 62-59 for a revenge Region 7-AAAAA win.
"It was good to beat them," Wheeler said. "It makes our record better and it makes us closer as a team."
Wheeler led all scorers with 22 points with a pair of 3s and 8-for-8 free-throw shooting. She also pulled down seven rebounds and had four assists.
The assists and free throws came when it mattered.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Peachtree Ridge cut what had been a 10-point deficit to two when Brittany Jack hit three straight free throws after drawing a foul. On the next possession, Wheeler easily drove into the lane and flipped the ball underneath to a waiting Abby Slocumb, who turned and laid it in. Slocumb ended the game with a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds.
"She was her consistent self, scoring and rebounding," North head coach Tony Watkins said of Slocumb.
Wheeler only hit one basket in the second half, a give-and-go on the baseline that she drove to the basket, but her six free throws made the difference.
Peachtree Ridge's offensive jump-starter Erika Waters fouled out with 3:09 left in the game and for two minutes the Lions' offense stalled.
"We had been able to make a push toward the end, but when we lost her, they were able to pick up their press and we only beat it once," said Peachtree Ridge head coach James Clanahan.
With the Lions forced to foul, North extended its lead to eight, but the final point came from Shay Fleetwood, who after drawing the foul earned a technical for reacting which gave the Lions the shots and the ball.
First, Jack sank the two free throws and Gabby Cole followed with a NBA-range 3-pointer. Jack led Peachtree Ridge with 20 points, 12 coming from the free throw line.
Up three with less than a minute to go, Wheeler showed back up. She drew the next two Peachtree Ridge fouls and calmly sank all four free throws to put the game away.
"I want the ball in my hands because I know I can make a play, shooting or passing," Wheeler said. "I can see the floor. I want the ball in my hands that way if I screw up it's my fault and I can take the blame."
By taking that pressure she earns the rewards.
"I am glad we have her," Watkins said. "When the game is on the line she steps up and helps us win."