MABLETON — It was a game of intensity with surges back and forth by two talented teams.
But the final push belonged to Whitefield Academy.
The result was a 62-48 win for the Wolf Pack that ended Wesleyan’s hopes for another state championship.
“They are strong and when you make mistakes, they will make you pay for it,” Wesleyan coach Skip Matherly said. “I am unbelievably proud of our team because we fought as hard as we could. It was a game of runs and they made the last one.”
Playing on the road in the first round of the playoffs, the Wolves fought back from an early 17-4 deficit to actually take the lead at halftime 26-24.
Whitefield responded early in the second half to take the lead. Wesleyan found its footing again and tied the score at 37 with only four seconds left in the third quarter.
Whitefield managed to pass the ball to the corner where Kenneth Gaines buried a 3-pointer to give the home team both the lead and the momentum going into the final eight minutes.
The carryover was obvious at the start of the fourth quarter as Whitefield scored the first 11 points and Wesleyan could never quite recover. The Wolves continued to scrap and cut the lead to only five with just over two minutes to play. It was a bucket by senior Andrew Frerking that cut Whitefield’s lead to 51-46.
Wesleyan failed to convert moments later when Ty Teague missed two free throws. Whitefield then used its full-court trap to force several steals and go on one more final push to effectively ice the game. Whitefield scored the next 12 points to take a 60-46 lead.
Wesleyan’s Shane Smith finally stopped the final Whitefield run by making two free throws. Smith, a junior, was outstanding in the loss with a game-high 23 points. But the physical Wolf Pack turned to their 6-foot-4 big man, Kennard Backman, to answer Wesleyan’s offensive push. Backman was dominant on the boards and ended with 19 points, all from inside the paint.
With the win, Whitefield avenged a state finals loss to Wesleyan last year and now advances as a favorite to win it all. While Wesleyan won the state title last year and in 2008, Whitefield took home the state championship in 2009.
Wesleyan finished the season with a 25-5 record.
“It was a great season,” Matherly said.