Staff Photo: John Bohn Wesleyan's Paige Mosley (34) is fouled by Laney's Khadijiah Cave (55) during the fourth period of the girls Class AA state championship basketball title game played on Friday in Macon. Wesleyan defeated Laney 76-43 to win their sixth consecutive girls basketball state title.
MACON -- Sure Wesleyan made tangible adjustments at halftime, but the more important changes were all abstract.
Chasing their sixth straight state title, the Wolves found themselves clinging to a five-point halftime lead against Laney early Friday. Laney had a big advantage in rebounds and Wesleyan was left trying to score within its half court offense.
The senior-heavy Wolves implemented needed schematic changes but also adjusted their attitudes.
"I just knew as a team we had to step it up," senior Katie Frerking said. "I stepped up my intensity and they were kind of pushing me around in the first half and I said, 'I am not going to let this bother me. I am going to play my game.' I wanted to win this so bad and I just used this as motivation."
Senior Brittany Stevens: "I think it was a matter of us realizing we had two more quarters to play. We just wanted to play the best basketball we could. Sometimes we get caught up with doing everything right and we get on offense and we stop being patient with our passes. We just calmed down and we just played together."
Calm, motivated and experienced the Wolves turned a close game into another lopsided victory, beating Laney 76-43 for the sixth straight state championship and 10th in the program's history, this one in Class AA. Both tie state records. Hart County also won six in a row and Taylor County owns 10 titles. Wesleyan coach Jan Azar, the program's only coach, now has rings for every finger.
"It never gets old," Azar said. "Especially with a group of seniors like this. To have a group that worked so hard. They just work hard and they play together. In the second half they put together some really good team basketball."
The end of the first half previewed the second half domination.
Wesleyan let a nine point lead slip away in the second quarter. After hitting four 3s in the first quarter, the Wolves hit just one in the second. When the 3s dried up, so did the lead.
Laney's Aliyah Collier scored seven points and Wynetta Wright added four in the quarter and with 41 seconds left, Wright hit her second bucket, tying the game at 25.
On cue, Wesleyan answered.
Freshmen Cairo Booker drove the lane, took a hard foul and her layup rolled in. Wesleyan then forced its 12th turnover passed the ball around the key. Katie Frerking passed up a 3 in favor of her sister, Lauren who swished the shot as the buzzer sounded giving the Wolves a 30-25 lead.
"That's huge," Katie Frerking said. "When you can go into halftime with a lead that's always a good thing. That 3 and the layup that Cairo had it was just kind of a momentum shift. To send them back to the locker room down was a big deal for us."
Next, the halftime adjustments.
The Wolves' pressure defense took hold and they ripped off a 12-4 run and before end of the quarter led by 20 points. Katie Frerking scored eight and Stevens put up seven of her 14 points. Wesleyan forced nine turnovers in the quarter.
And like she has all season, Katie Frerking finished the job. The senior, headed to Auburn next year, ended the game with 28 points and 11 steals and scored 12 of her points in the fourth quarter. Stevens had 11 assists to join Katie Frerking with a double-double. Senior Paige Mosely scored 11 and CaraMia Tsirigos grabbed five rebounds and took three offensive charges. Senior Kendra Talley left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury and Taylor Blackmon missed the game with an injury.
But in the final minutes, Azar entered all four available seniors and took them out as a group, a tradition for Wesleyan in championship games.
"When I looked up and I saw the four people coming in for the four seniors I thought, 'OK, this is my last time on the floor, we got this. I can kind of like settle down now.,'" Stevens said. "When I gave coach Azar a hug I knew I was going to cry."
For most of the seniors this was the sixth season they ended with a title, if you include middle school. And it was more special for Frerking who stood at center court hugging her replacement and sister, Lauren.
"She gave me the biggest hug and she was like, 'I'm going to miss you so much,'" Katie Frerking said. "I thought I was going to cry, but I didn't because we just won state and I am so happy. But these people are my role models and are so awesome, so to go down that line (hugging coaches and teammates) was awesome, I am going to miss them so much."