Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Wesleyan's Logan Morris, right, hugs teammate Brittany Stevens after winning the Class A state championship Saturday in Macon. Wesleyan beat Savannah Christian 65-49.
MACON -- In what has almost become a yearly ritual, the Wesleyan girls danced happily at midcourt with a state championship trophy held high.
It was the Wolves' seventh title in nine years and their third in a row, a numerical testament to what kind of program coach Jan Azar has built at the Norcross private school.
But it takes looking inside the numbers to fully see just how dominant Wesleyan has been during its latest three-peat.
When the Wolves defeated Savannah Christian 65-49 on Saturday at the Macon Centreplex to win the Class A championship, it was the closest state tournament game they've had in the three years.
In fact, Wesleyan even trailed by six points early in the second quarter. Of course, Savannah Christian's lead didn't last long.
"We didn't panic," Wesleyan senior Logan Morris said. "It was more like, 'Wow, this is going to be a better game than we expected.' Honestly, it was awesome to have a close game."
Wesleyan hadn't had one in the state tournament during its latest title run, a 22-point semifinal victory over Taylor County on Wednesday was a point off the closest margin of victory.
Wesleyan won its five playoffs games in 2008 by an average of 26 points, climaxed by a 79-40 rout of Paideia for the Class AA title. Dropping back to Class A, the Wolves won by an average of 45 points last season and beat Savannah Country Day 71-31 for the title. This season, Wesleyan's average victory margin was 52 points going into the Final Four.
"Our kids are so used to winning that I don't think that there was ever any doubt in their minds that we were going to win," Azar said.
That confidence, of course, is a good thing, although a wake-up call is occasionally needed. Even a dominant team can be an upset victim.
"We had to explain that Savannah Christian was trying to win this game, too," Azar said.
Wesleyan's players got the message. Overcoming a cold shooting effort by forcing 33 turnovers, the Wolves used their trademark pressure defense to take control.
"I knew that the deck was stacked against us," Savannah Christian coach Toy Byrd said. "But I thought we had a chance to play with them if everything went right. We did that for a quarter. Then the turnovers killed us."
Wesleyan missed its first seven shots and never really found the range despite the victory.
"We had a cover on the basket," Azar said. "We couldn't get anything to fall."
Savannah Christian led 14-11 and the deficit grew to six when Adrienne DeFilippis hit a 3-pointer to open the second quarter. But Wesleyan quickly recovered.
The Wolves took the lead for good at 26-25 on a basket by freshman Brittany Stevens with less than three minutes left in the first half and were up 35-27 at intermission thanks to a closing 16-4 run.
"I was so pleased that our kids didn't put their heads down and kept playing hard," Azar said. "Eventually, a few of our shots started falling."
Holli Wilkins had 11 of Wesleyan's 24 points in the second quarter, including nine in the closing run. By the end of the third quarter, the lead was 51-34 and the Wolves were safely headed back to another championship.
Wilkins, the daughter of former NBA player Gerald Wilkins, led the Wolves with 17 points and eight rebounds, while fellow sophomore Jordan Frazier scored 16. Morris had 10 points.
DeFilippis scored 17 points to lead Savannah Christian, while Kelly Reid had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Ten of Reid's points came in the first quarter.
"We're not used to being behind, so it was strange," Wilkins said. "But we know that it's a long game and we didn't panic."
"We all knew what we could do it if we kept working," Frazier said.
Savannah Christian lost to Wesleyan 89-65 in the 2008 Class AA semifinals. Despite the Raiders' good start Saturday, they didn't do much better this time.
"I can't say enough about that program," Raiders coach Byrd said of Wesleyan. "It's a model for all of us to try to built our programs up to. But it would be pretty hard for anybody to match it. In Class A, they are in a league of their own."