ATLANTA — It seemed like a good omen for Wesleyan’s boys when Andrew Frerking hit a wide-open 3-pointer with the first shot in the Wolves’ Region 5-A semifinal against St. Francis.
However, it turned out to be the harbinger of a horrendous shooting night for the No. 2 Wolves.
Combined with an aggressive opponent, it was a recipe for disaster as the Knights built an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter and held off Wesleyan’s late charge for a 43-39 win Friday at Pace Academy’s Iman Center.
The loss sends the Wolves (23-4) into today’s 4:30 p.m. consolation game. They’ll need a win just to be able to host a play-in game for the Class A state tournament, which is necessitated by the fact there are nine regions in the smallest classification.
“You have to give St. Francis all the credit in the world,” Wesleyan coach Skip Matherly said. “They played a great game. We struggled, and that’s basketball. Some nights you just struggle. I don’t know why. You don’t know why. They don’t know why.”
It didn’t look like Wesleyan would struggle after Frerking’s 3-pointer just 17 seconds after the opening tip. and the Wolves held a 9-4 lead after another 3-pointer by Ty Teague with 4:44 left in the first quarter.
From that point, however, Wesleyan went ice cold, finishing with just 11 field goals from the floor — five from 3-point range.
And while they were able to get to the foul line often, the Wolves’ normally steady free-throw shooting was also off as they connected on just 12 of 19 (63.1 percent).
St. Francis (17-8) wasn’t shooting the ball much better and led just 21-18 at the half.
But late in a back-and-fourth third quarter, the Knights began to take control.
After Shane Smith tied the game 26-26 by hitting 1 of 2 free throws with 2:57 in the period, St. Francis scored the final five points of the quarter, including Isaiah Williams’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer that pushed the Knights into a 31-26 lead.
Williams then gave St. Francis a boost, connecting on five of his team-high 13 points and dishing of an assist during a 7-4 run that gave the Knights their biggest lead at 38-30 after Williams’ 3-pointer with 5:41 to play.
But following a timeout, Wesleyan turned its defense up a notch, forcing five turnovers from St. Francis in the final frame.
A 9-2 run was capped when Teague came up with a steal and layup with just 1:49 to play, and Wesleyan was back to within 40-39.
The Wolves then got three golden opportunities — twice to take the lead and another to tie — in the final minute.
But misses on two wide open jumpers were sandwiched around an offensive foul, and St. Francis hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final 24.1 seconds to put the game away and move into tonight’s 7:30 p.m. championship game.
“With about four minutes left, we finally kicked it into gear,” Matherly said. “We just couldn’t make a play when we had to have it.”
Teague led all scores with 13 points and added six rebounds, while Smith chipped in nine points and seven boards and Frerking finished with eight points. Hudson Price and Rodney Morrison also had a good night on the glass with nine and seven rebounds respectively.
Wesleyan girls 79, Holy Innocents’ 30
The top-ranked Wolves (25-3) fell behind 6-2 early, but quickly regained the lead and rolled to the easy victory and a berth in the championship game at 7 p.m. today.
Holli Wilkins scored a game-high 15 points and pulled down six rebounds, while Taylor Blackmon added 13 points and four steals and Brittany Stevens finished with 11 points and six assists.
Jordan Frazier also had six steals for Wesleyan.
McKenzie Bolden had 13 points to lead the Golden Bears (20-7).