CALHOUN -- Come state tournament time, there's no substitute for big-game experience.
Most of Wesleyan's girls team has such experience, which came in handy in its Class AA state quarterfinal game against Calhoun.
And it was the most experienced of those players, seniors Katie Frerking and Brittany Stevens, who made perhaps the biggest differences in the Wolves' 66-49 win Tuesday night in front of a raucous crowd at the Calhoun Middle School gymnasium.
Frerking finished with 26 points, five rebounds, four assists, six blocked shots and six steals, while Stevens added nine points -- all from the free-throw line -- four rebounds and five assists as the Wolves (26-4) advanced to the state semifinals for the ninth straight season.
"I felt like every time (Calhoun) made a run, we returned the run," said Wesleyan coach Jan Azar, whose team will play either Thomasville or Bleckley County a week from Friday in the Final Four in Milledgeville. "I was proud of our seniors for stepping up with their leadership. It made a big difference."
Though Wesleyan trailed just once in the game at 2-0 on Taylor Palmer's early basket, the experience of seniors Frerking and Stevens, plus a handful of other players who have seen postseason action throughout their careers, were still essential throughout the evening.
Despite falling behind early, Calhoun (26-2) made it clear it would not go away, constantly battling back from deficits to stay within reach throughout the first half.
Sparked by the charged crowd in the small gym, the Yellow Jackets cut what had been a nine-point Wesleyan lead late in the first quarter to as little as 17-15 after Palmer's layup 31 seconds into the second quarter.
And the lead was still just 29-26 after a free throw from Carly Curtis with 2:02 left in the first half.
That's when Frerking and her younger sister, Lauren, led a late charge into halftime.
Lauren hit a 3-pointer from the left corner, while Katie added a jumper from the left baseline, and followed it up with a steal and a layup on the ensuing in-bound pass, to lead a 7-0 run over the final 1:54 of the half to send the Wolves into intermission with a considerably more comfortable 36-26 lead.
"When you've played enough, you kind of know how when a team makes a run, all you need to do is just get a basket or a stop, and it can break (the run)," said Katie Frerking, who scored 17 of her points in the first half. "I have experience, and the other (five) seniors on this team have experience. I just knew I needed to go make a play."
The Wolves then turned to an underclassman to build on the lead in the second half, as junior Landyn Duley scored half of her eight points on the night, plus all three of her steals, in the third quartrer as Wesleyan's lead reached as much as 47-31 midway through the period.
Still, Calhoun kept battling by breaking Wesleyan's full-court press and getting to the free-throw line, with the Jackets hitting five free throws in the quarter to pull as close as 49-39 on a pair of Sydnie Parker free throws with 53.5 seconds left in the quarter.
But another big surge by Katie Frerking over the remainder of the period helped Wesleyan regain control.
This time, she collected a loose ball on a deflected pass in the lane and scored with 26 seconds left, and once again followed up by stealing the inbound pass and scoring again seven seconds later, to send the Wolves into the fourth quarter with a 53-39 lead.
"That's what our press does," Azar said. "We know that people are going to get some layups out of our press, but our goal is to make runs with our press and to wear out the other team. I thought Calhoun did a good job of not letting us do that (most of the evening).
"But (the Wolves) handled (the atmosphere) well. I think that comes from being here before and having six seniors, and the leadership we have with those six seniors."
And seniors Katie Frerking, Stevens and Paige Mosley, along with juniors Duley and Keevana Edwards all came up with key plays -- whether it was field goals, free throws or rebounds -- down the stretch as the Wolves never allowed the Jackets inside of single digits in the fourth quarter.
While no other Wesleyan player besides Katie Frerking reached double figures in scoring, the Wolves also got contributions from Lauren Frerking with eight points, while Mosley added seven points, six rebounds, two steals and a block, and Edwards chipped in two points, seven boards and three blocks.
Calhoun got a big night from their twin towers, as 6-foot senior Taylor Palmer finished with 13 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots, while 6-1 junior Molly Palmer added 10 points, eight boards and three blocks.
Curtis also reached double figures for the Jackets with 11 points.