ATLANTA -- A victory over St. Pius after the Christmas break a year ago began a 21-game winning streak that ended with the Wesleyan girls claiming their fourth straight state title.
The Wolves, ranked No. 1 in Class A, certainly wouldn't mind a repeat of history.
Wesleyan, showing the effects of not having played in nearly two weeks, got a scare Tuesday night at St Pius, ranked No. 2 in Class AAA. But the Wolves (10-2) survived thanks to the foul line.
Wesleyan made 24 of 30 free throws, including 10 straight to end the game, and won 44-34 in a deliberately played defensive struggle that featured more fouls than baskets made.
"We've got to do better than that," Wesleyan coach Jan Azar said of allowing St. Pius to dictate the pace. "We bought into their game plan. We should never let that happen. We like to speed things up."
Playing without quick senior guard Jordan Frazier, the Wolves weren't able to get the numerous transition baskets that usually result from steals in their pressure defense. But Wesleyan hit its free throws and St. Pius didn't.
The Lions (10-2) made just 6 of 17 shots from the line. The Wolves, meanwhile, were 15 of 17 in the second half alone.
"It was a very tightly called game for each team," Azar said. "Thankfully, we made our foul shots."
Wesleyan led by as many as nine points in the third quarter. But St. Pius pulled back to within two points early in the fourth quarter before the Wolves took charge for good.
Joshlyn Belcher made a steal and scored on Wesleyan's only breakaway layup with about five minutes left, then the Wolves wrapped up the victory at the line as St. Pius was forced to foul after Azar went to the delay game.
Brittany Stevens was 4-for-4 at line in the final two minutes, while Missy Byrd, Taylor Blackmon and Holli Wilkins each went 2-for-2.
Wilkins had 16 points to lead the Wesleyan scoring. Katie Frerking had eight rebounds to go with her six points, and Byrd had seven rebounds with her six points. Stevens also had six points, while Belcher and Blackmon each contributed five as just six Wolves scored.
Wesleyan, 5-for-23 in the first half, made just nine baskets, two of them 3-pointers.
St. Pius was led by freshman Asia Durr, who scored 15 points. Durr hit her first two shots, including a 3-pointer, and the Lions led 10-8 at the end of the first quarter despite seven early points by Wilkins.
But Wesleyan held St. Pius to three points in the second quarter and was ahead 20-13 at halftime. The Wolves biggest lead until the final minute was 26-17 in the third quarter.
While Wesleyan had been off since Dec. 22, when the Wolves completed a 2-2 run against top national competition at the Nike Tournament of Champions outside Phoenix. St. Pius, meanwhile, had played three times last week in its own post-Christmas tournament, losing in the championship game to a team from Pennsylvania.
The Wolves have lost just once in the past 46 games against Georgia opponents and that was a 58-57 overtime defeat against Class AAAAA state champ Norcross at Myrtle Beach in the third-place game of the 2010 Crescent Bank Holiday Invitational.
Wesleyan bounced back from that to rout St. Pius 65-37 early last January. This season's game was much closer, but the Wolves hope that it will begin the same kind of closing push. Wesleyan has won eight state titles in the past 10 years.