GAC boys, Wesleyan girls take title pursuit to Final Four

Photo: Karl L. Moore  GAC forward Isaiah Wilkins (21) goes up for a jump shot over Manchester's Max Warren (1) during Wednesday night's quarterfinals of the Class AA state playoffs at GAC.

Photo: Karl L. Moore GAC forward Isaiah Wilkins (21) goes up for a jump shot over Manchester's Max Warren (1) during Wednesday night's quarterfinals of the Class AA state playoffs at GAC.

Typically dominant season after season, the Greater Atlanta Christian boys and Wesleyan girls basketball teams rarely see their scenery change in the state playoffs.

They get their share of February and March home games as a No. 1 seed and regularly play their final two postseason games in the Macon Centreplex for the Final Four. That routine has changed a bit this season, with Wesleyan traveling to Calhoun for a quarterfinal win on Tuesday. While GAC was at home Wednesday for its third-round victory, it joins Wesleyan at a unique venue for today's Class AA state semifinals.

The games --Wesleyan vs. Thomasville at 7 p.m. and GAC vs. Laney at 8:30 p.m. --will be played at a venue new to the state playoff rotation at Georgia College and State University.

"I've been there for camps, it's a nice gym," GAC boys coach Eddie Martin said. "I don't care as much about where we're playing, I'm more concerned about who we're playing. ... Laney is the defending state champion, so it's not going to be an easy test. Right now, nothing's supposed to be easy. They're going to be very athletic, very quick. If our kids are focused again like (in a 77-52 quarterfinal win over Manchester), we'll be alright."

GAC's win on Wednesday was emotional, making up for a surprising loss to Manchester in last year's quarterfinals. It marked the first time in Martin's tenure at the school that his team didn't reach the state championship game.

While Laney (20-8) presents a big obstacle to another final, GAC (27-3) feels good about its chances. The Spartans are on an incredible roll with 16 straight wins, all by huge blowout margins. The closest margin of victory during that stretch was this week's 25-point win over Manchester that featured a triple double by Isaiah Wilkins (21 points, 19 rebounds, 10 blocks) and 19 points from Collin Swinton.

Their last close game came Dec. 29, a 72-68 loss to AAAA Jonesboro (23-6) in three overtimes.

"I think we're playing well," Martin said. "We're sharing the basketball well and doing a good job of executing. We're playing hard on defense right now. I like the way we're playing."

Wesleyan girls coach Jan Azar can say the same.

The Wolves (26-4) have won 13 in a row and their closest playoff game wasn't that close --Tuesday's 17-point win at Calhoun. They are chasing history as a state title this season would be a state record-tying sixth in a row. It also would be their ninth in a 10-year span.

A championship would be the ideal finish for another strong Wesleyan senior class, this one led by standouts Katie Frerking and Brittany Stevens.

"Our seniors right now are determined to finish out their careers with a win," Azar said. "We are playing great team basketball right now and if we continue to do that good things will happen. We are excited to head to the Final Four again this year and play a talented Thomasville team."

Thomasville (26-2) presents a stern test, with losses only to Redan and Pelham.

"Thomasville is a very athletic team," Azar said. "They have some quickness at the guard position and a big post inside. They like to shoot the 3 and run the floor. It should be an exciting game that is fast paced."

With semifinal victories, the two powerhouses would return to a familiar spot for next week's state championship games --the Macon Centreplex. The GAC-Laney boys winner will meet the Jordan-Bleckley County winner in the finals, while the Wesleyan-Thomasville girls winner will play the Kendrick-Laney victor.