NORCROSS -- St. Francis finally has its breakthrough victory against Wesleyan and the Class A girls state championship no longer appears to be a lock for the Wolves.
"It's anybody's to win," St. Francis coach Aisha Gaddis said.
The Knights built a 14-point lead in the second quarter and then held off a fourth-quarter comeback bid by Wesleyan for a 52-45 victory Saturday night in the Region 5-A championship game at Yancey Gymnasium.
No. 5-ranked St. Francis (23-5) had never beaten the Wolves in 12 meetings and Wesleyan had won 27 straight games at home since an overtime loss to Class AA power Buford late in the 2009-2010 regular season.
Holli Wilkins had 23 points and seven rebounds for No. 1-ranked Wesleyan (24-4). But her individual effort wasn't enough to save the Wolves, who have won four straight state titles and eight in the past 10 years.
But Wesleyan has shown in the past that a region title is hardly a prerequisite for winning a state title. The Wolves claimed championships in 2004, 2005 and 2008 after falling short in the region tournament.
"We're better at winning state titles than region titles," Wesleyan coach Jan Azar said.
Miami signee Keyona Hayes had 14 points and 14 rebounds for St. Francis before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. Nigia Greene and Candice Williams each scored 11 and were members of the all-region team along with Hayes.
Wilkins was named the 5-A co-player of the year with Pace Academy's Morgan Batey.
Down by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, Wesleyan got within three with 69 seconds left as Wilkins hit both free throws after Hayes fouled out.
But Nettie Brown hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 28 seconds left and Williams put the finishing touches on the victory by hitting two more free throws with three seconds remaining.
St. Francis was 18 of 25 at the foul line, while Wesleyan made 11 of 15.
Wesleyan, which had defeated the Knights by 12 and 13 points during the regular season, fell into an early hole and never was able to dig itself out.
St. Francis jumped out 12-3 and increased an 18-8 lead at the end of the first quarter to as many as 14 points in the second quarter before going into halftime up 30-18.
Hayes had eight of her 10 first-half points in the opening quarter and had nine rebounds by the intermission as St. Francis dominated the boards.
Wilkins completed a 3-point play after Hayes drew her fourth foul late in the third quarter and Wesleyan was within 44-39 as the St. Francis standout headed to the bench. But St. Francis built the lead back to 46-36 without Hayes before Wesleyan mounted its comeback bid that fell short.
"It feels so good," Gaddis said. "This is something we have been building toward."
As the No. 2 from 5-A, Wesleyan will host the No. 3 seed from Region 9 next weekend in the first round of the state tournament. St. Francis will face the winner of a preliminary game between the No 4. seeds from 6-A and 9-A.
Wilkins was joined on the all-region team by Wesleyan teammates Katie Frerking and Brittany Stevens. Erika Gotfredson was an all-region pick from Providence Christian.