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Causwell comes off bench to help Wesleyan girls into state finals

Photo: Jason Vorhees Wesleyan's Kaelyn Causwell (44) goes up for a shot after grabbing an offensive rebound during the Class A semifinal against Taylor County on Wednesday in Macon.

Photo: Jason Vorhees Wesleyan's Kaelyn Causwell (44) goes up for a shot after grabbing an offensive rebound during the Class A semifinal against Taylor County on Wednesday in Macon.

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Photo: Jason Vorhees Wesleyan's Jordan Frazier (12) and Taylor County's Keshundra Jackson (20) go after a loose ball after Frazier poked the ball away from Jackson during the Class A semifinal Wednesday in Macon.

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Photo: Jason Vorhees Wesleyan's Nikki McDonald (20) battles for a rebound with Taylor County's Tamara Majors (5) during the Class A semifinal Wednesday in Macon.

MACON -- Kaelyn Causwell cut to the baseline and drained a silky jump shot to put the finishing touch on Wesleyan's 55-40 state semifinal victory over Taylor County on Wednesday at the Macon Centreplex.

It was by no means the top-ranked Wolves' best game.

But a deep bench and the ability to go inside to Causwell when the outside shots weren't falling has mighty Wesleyan in the Class A championship game once again.

"Playing a team like Taylor County, so rich in tradition, we try to find things about other teams that can motivate our team," said Wolves head coach Jan Azar, who has been with the program since its inception. "Taylor County has won more state championships than we have. They're a good basketball team.

"But (the Wesleyan girls) are competitors just like I am. I don't think it matters how many times you win it, if you're competitive, you don't ever want to lose it."

The Wolves (28-4) are in pursuit of their fifth straight state crown and eighth in the last nine years. They'll play Southwest Atlanta Christian, who beat Charlton County 68-39 in the other semifinal, on Saturday in Macon.

Azar said the team hasn't talked about setting any records for consecutive titles.

"We've talked about this team, this year, and being able to accomplish something in one season," Azar said. "Afterwards, if it does happen, we'll definitely talk about it. But I like to live right now in the moment."

Wesleyan didn't shoot well early, but still had a 20-4 lead after the first quarter.

Causwell, a 6-foot-4 senior, was part of the Wolves' success from start to finish. The other big contributor off the bench was sophomore Joshlyn Belcher, who had nine points and nine rebounds.

"Joshlyn and I have a lot of on-court chemistry," Causwell said. "We practice a lot together. I'm her shooting partner. She knows how to get me the ball.

"We're mostly a pressing team and used to playing small guards. For me, it was an opportunity to play girls my height. And it was an opportunity to play more."

Causwell took advantage of the opportunity. She finished with 10 points and a team-leading four blocks.

"Taylor County did not give up and I love that," Azar said. "We got in some foul trouble so we had to go to our bench a lot. It changed things for us, but I think that's what helps us so much is having such a deep bench.

"We don't have a set starting lineup until it comes to state tournament time. The reason Kaelyn never started is because we like to start our press. So we start three guards. What's great about Kaelyn is she's such a team player, she doesn't care. She'll come off that bench and do her job."

Taylor County outscored Wesleyan in the second quarter and still trailed 28-14 at the half.

The Vikings (26-2) cut the gap to 12 points in the third quarter, but Belcher canned a 3-pointer in the final seconds to push the lead to 48-28.

Things got more interesting in the fourth.

Taylor County, ranked No. 5 in the state, went on a 10-0 run to start the final quarter and came as close as 10 points with 5:55 remaining in the game.

"I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh, they could come back. We might have an overtime game,'" Causwell said. "My heart started to pound really bad. But then our coach told us to keep our heads up. I thought about that we are Wesleyan. We play the entire game. We're not going to give up.

"We didn't give up. It got scary, then we got to the point where we started playing well, passing and doing the little things."

Junior Kaie Frerking drove the lane for the Wolves' first points of the fourth and Wesleyan controlled the rest of the game.

Junior Taylor Blackmon scored a team-high 13 points for the Wolves and senior Holli Wilkins was also in double figures with 10. Senior Jordan Frazier had six assists and hit a pair of free throws in the final minutes to help put away the feisty Vikings.

"I thought we did a great job in the fourth quarter maintaining our lead and running the clock," Azar said. "That was our goal -- to get back here on Saturday. Not to win by 30 or 40 or 50. It was to be here on Saturday. So we milked that clock."