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Wesleyan two wins from first four-peat

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

MARIETTA — There is really only one thing that the Wesleyan girls haven’t accomplished in their more than a decade long run of basketball success.

Coach Jan Azar’s team has never won four consecutive state championships.

Yet.

Wesleyan is now just two wins away from its first four-peat and few are expecting anything less.

“They do know that they could be the group to make it four in a row,” Azar said of her players. “But it’s not something we’ve talked about a lot.”

The Wolves — winners of seven championships in the past nine years — continued their dominant pursuit of an eighth title and fourth consecutive with a 78-43 victory over Gordon Lee on Saturday in a Class A quarterfinal at the Marietta Garden.

Nationally ranked Wesleyan (29-2) hit 11 3-pointers, with five coming in the first quarter, and rolled to another easy win to make the Final Four for the 10th time in 11 years. The only time the Wolves missed they made the Elite Eight and they have two state runner-up finishes in addition to the seven titles.

Next up on Wednesday in Macon will be Savannah Calvary Day (26-5). The Cavaliers advanced to the semifinals with a 50-45 victory over Seminole County on Friday.

If the Wolves shoot like they did against Gordon Lee (24-7), Calvary Day’s chances would appear to verge on slim and none. Wesleyan’s forte will always be pressure defense, but this team can also beat you with its outside shooting.

“We have a lot of kids who can shoot the 3,” Azar said. “They have the green light to shoot if they’re open.”

Brittany Stevens and Taylor Blackmon each hit a trio of 3-pointers against Gordon Lee and Holli Wilkins made two. By halftime, Wesleyan had made eight 3-pointers and led 43-18. It was 60-30 after three quarters and the final period was shortened under the mercy rule — the third time in three state tournament games where that has happened.

Before the 35-point victory over Gordon Lee, the Wolves had won by 45 and 64 points in the tournament. The only two teams to have come within 20 points of Wesleyan are St. Francis — once in three games — and Pace Academy.

Wesleyan, ranked No. 22 nationally by ESPN in addition to No. 1 in Class A, has lost only to South Carolina power Spring Valley and defending Class AAAAA state champion Norcross, both just before Christmas in Myrtle Beach.

Spring Valley is No. 11 in the ESPN rankings and Norcross No. 32. Since the losses, Wesleyan has won 19 games in a row and owns an early-season victory over Alabama power Hoover, ranked No. 20.

Obviously, Wesleyan is as good as ever and the Wolves are doing it with just one senior — Grace Leah Baughn. A fourth basketball title would give her eight state championships, with two in volleyball and two in track.

“I’m feeling a little sentimental as a senior,” Baughn said. “This team and this season is special.”

Baughn, the team’s leading scorer, had nine points and six rebounds as Wesleyan showed off its depth and balance again against Gordon Lee.

Wilkins, second in scoring to Baugh, had a game-high 15 points and six rebounds. Taylor Blackmon had 12 points, Katie Frerking scored 11 and Stevens finished with 10. Kaelyn Causwell contributed a game-high eight rebounds and eight points. Jordan Frazier led with five assists.

Holli Brooks was Gordon Lee’s only double-figure scorer with 12 points. Lesslie Bohannon, who scored 22 points in the No. 10-ranked Chargers’ 64-39 victory over Wilkinson County in the Sweet 16, had eight.

“It was a little intimidating at first,” Baughn said of her leadership role on such a young team. “We went from six seniors [last season] to one. I knew I needed to step up.”

It isn’t the first time, though, that Azar has had just one senior. That was also the case when Wesleyan won a Class AA state title in 2008 to start the potential four-peat.

“It worked out OK then,” Azar said. “Hopefully it will again.”