Battle-tested Wesleyan boys pull away in second half

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Wesleyan's Griffin Schamp leaps into the air as he and his teammates rush the floor after beating Whitefield Academy for the Class A state championship Saturday in Macon.

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Wesleyan's Griffin Schamp leaps into the air as he and his teammates rush the floor after beating Whitefield Academy for the Class A state championship Saturday in Macon.

MACON -- After falling to a No. 4 seed with a subpar performance in the Region 7-A tournament, the Wesleyan's boys entire path to the Class A state championship game had been a battle.

So, why should Saturday's title game against defending state champion Whitefield Academy be any different?

And like they did in four previous games against arguably the toughest road to the finals, the Wolves found a way to win.

Andrew Frerking scored 16 of his game-high 26 points -- including four 3-pointers -- in the fourth quarter as Wesleyan pulled away to win its second championship in the last three seasons 63-52 at the Macon Centreplex.

It was a satisfying end to a long, arduous road for the Wolves (26-6).

"This was a different kind of team (from the 2008 title team that featured current Division I college players Trey Thompkins and Tanner Smith)," Wesleyan coach Skip Matherly said.

"This team had a harder road (to the title). This team had a war on their hands each night of the state tournament."

That was definitely the case Saturday, especially during a first half that had little flow to it due to 27 fouls -- 10 called on Whitefield -- which led to a combined 38 free-throw attempts.

"That's what we wanted," Matherly said. "They (Whitefield) are so physical and so intense, they don't let you get into a flow, and that's a credit to them."

However, both teams had trouble cashing in, with Wesleyan hitting just 14 of their 25 attempts from the line, while Whitefield (28-4) connected on just 8 of 14 free throws.

Neither team held more than a three-point lead, and the lead changed hands six times with four ties.

It was Wesleyan that eventually took a 24-23 lead into intermission on the strength of a 7-3 run over the final 3:08 of the half, with Andrew Frerking scoring five of those points on a key 3-pointer and a pair of free throws with 8 seconds left.

"It was kind of hard (to get into a rhythm)," said senior Griffin Schamp, who finished with nine points, all from the line. "But you've got to adapt. You've got to change your game. Instead of going up (to the basket), you've got to look to dish more."

That approach began to pay dividends in the second half, especially after junior guard Tekele Cotton, who led Whitefield with 18 points, went to the bench with his fourth foul with 6:48 left in he third quarter.

And the Wolves took advantage, as Shane Smith scored six points during an 11-2 run over the final 4:43 of the period to break open a 27-27 tie and gave Wesleyan a 38-29 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

That's when Frerking began to heat up. Despite scoring 10 points in the first three quarters, the 6-foot-3 junior had struggled with his perimeter shot.

But that all changed after Cotton came back into the game and scored 18 seconds into the fourth quarter to pull Whitefield to within 38-31.

On the next trip down the floor, Frerking got free in the left corner, received a pass from Ty Teague and knocked down the 3-pointer to push the lead to 41-31 with 7:05 left.

And that spot in the corner would turn out to be good to both Frerking and the Wolves.

"I don't know that I have a favorite spot," said Frerking, who added five rebounds on the night. "The first couple of minutes of a game, you're going on adrenaline. But once that first shot goes down, you get into a rhythm."

Frerking found that rhythm, hitting two more 3-pointers from that same spot in the corner over the next 1:32, and a pair of Schamp free throws with 4:36 left helped the Wolves match their biggest lead of the game to that point at 49-38.

But Whitefield wasn't through as the Wolfpack started turning up their defensive intensity, resulting in a 7-2 run that cut the Wesleyan lead to 51-45 after Chris Lovelace's steal and pull-up jumper with 3:36 left.

However, Frerking stepped up one more time, but not from the perimeter.

This time, he grabbed a defensive rebound and dashed the length of the court for a layup that pushed the lead back to 53-45 with 2:52 remaining.

"He made some really gutsy plays," Matherly said of Frerking's court-long dash.

So did Wesleyan, which built the lead back to double digits and hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 1:01 to put the game and the title away.

Smith was the only other Wesleyan player in double figures with 11 points and added nine rebounds, while Schamp contributed nine points and seven rebounds and Wes Caver dished out five assists.

Lovelace joined Cotton in double figures for Whitefield with 16 points, while Kennard Backman had a big game with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

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