Class A-private semifinal report from Columbus State

COLUMBUS — Four semifinals games were played at Lumpkin Arena on Friday and now the boys and girls championship games are set. On the girls side, Wesleyan will play Holy Innocents’ and on the boys side it will be Aquinas versus St. Francis.

Both championship games will be played at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion on March 9, with the girls game starting at 2 p.m. and the boys game scheduled for a 4 p.m. tip off.

Here’s a breakdown of Friday’s action:

´╗┐Wesleyan girls 71, St. Francis 49: The Wesleyan Lady Wolves are in the state title game for the 15th consecutive season after beating the St. Francis Lady Knights, and for the fourth consecutive season, they’ll meet Holy Innocents’ in the championship.

Should the No. 3 Lady Wolves (26-4) — they’re currently the defending champs — beat No. 1 Holy Innocents’, it will be their 13th state title since 2001.

Led by a dominant performance from senior forward Sutton West, the Lady Wolves opened up a 20-10 lead by the end of the first and ran away with the game from there, stretching the lead to as much as 26 in the fourth quarter.

“We knew that they were going to get up in the second half so we knew that we had to come out and work just as hard as we did in the first half and not give up at all,” said West, who had 18 points and 18 rebounds.

With the Lady Wolves’ current string of title game appearances dating back to 2004, some of the freshman on the current team were barely born when it began. To win the title this season, they’ll need to beat a Holy Innocents’ team they went 0-3 against this season, with the last defeat coming by a score of 54-47 on Feb. 10 in the Region 5 title game.

During the 2014-15 season, the Lady Wolves lost three times to the Lady Golden Bears prior to the playoffs, but beat them 45-31 in the title game. 

Lady Wolves coach Jan Azar, who’s guided Wesleyan through its dynasty since it began 17 years ago, talked about playing their familiar foe once again.

“You can’t pull out different plays,” Azar said. “You’ve just gotta go and play hard. We know what they’re going to do, they know what we’re going to do. We’ve got to put the ball in the basket, we’ve gotta get after it, we’ve gotta play through fatigue and our older players have got to stay on the court and play through it.”

In addition to Sutton, Avyonce Carter had 21 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, Callie Weaver had 13 points and Amaya Register had nine assists for the Lady Wolves.

The No. 2 Lady Knights (26-5), who were in the semis for the sixth consecutive season, had two double-digit scorers in Mia Moore (17 points) and Jordan Isaacs (14).

Holy Innocents’ girls 51, Stratford Academy 32: The Holy Innocents’ Lady Golden Bears used a late second half run to bury the Stratford Academy Lady Eagles and surge to a victory.

The top-ranked Lady Golden Bears (29-1) extended their win streak to 27 and advance to the championship game for a sixth consecutive season. 

“We just have great chemistry and we just keep on pushing it,” said Jillian Hollingshead, a 6-foot-3 freshman who led Holy Innocents’ with 18 points and 10 rebounds. “We depend on each other.”

The Lady Golden Bears began their run at the end of the third quarter, after Stratford’s Carey Woodcock hit a 3 that cut Holy Innocents’ lead to 31-24 with 18 seconds left, bringing the Lady Eagles to within single digits for the first time in the half. Holy Innocents’ immediately responded with a 3 from Jade Dodd-Mungin with 5 seconds left, which sparked a 20-8 run that brought the score to its final margin.

Holy Innocents’, which never trailed, led 17-12 after the first and 25-15 at halftime.

“We’re excited,” Lady Golden Bears coach Nichole Dixon said. “We’re just going to prepare over the next couple of days, make a few tweaks and basically get after it — enjoy it.”

The Lady Golden Bears’ only other double-digit scorer was freshman Rachel Suttle, who had 12 points. Seniors Kennedy Suttle had seven points, five rebounds and three steals and Kaila Hubbard had eight points and 12 assists.

The No. 5 Lady Eagles saw their season end at 26-2, snapping a 22-game win streak. They were seeking their first finals appearance since 1970.

The Lady Eagles’ lone double-digit scorer was Woodcock, a senior, who finished with 12 points.

St. Francis boys 83, Holy Innocents’ 54: The top-ranked St. Francis Knights lived up to their status, controlling the game from start to finish and coasting to a victory over the Holy Innocents’ Golden Bears.

The Knights (26-3) dominated in their fifth consecutive trip to the semifinals and are gunning for their third state title since 2014.

St. Francis built it’s lead with a dominant transition game, which often led to layups, wide-open shots and trips to the free throw line. They gained a double digit lead at the start of the second quarter and never let it go, leading 40-18 at halftime and stretching it to as much as 29 in the second half.

“We were really effective in transition,” sophomore guard Dwon Odom said. “We got long rebounds and we were able to get it out to our runners and that’s one of the best parts of our game. ...We wanted to come in very focused...We’ve been here in the past, so we know how it feels in this type of environment...We’re going to try to win it all and bring (the title trophy) back where it belongs, and that’s St. Francis.”

The Knights were 13 of 18 from the free throw line and also hit five 3-pointers. 

Though they were always in charge, the game got out of hand with 4:35 remaining in the first half, when Holy Innocents’ frustrations boiled over and resulted in a flagrant foul of the Knights’ C.J. Riley, who was shoved to the ground. He hit both free throws, and with possession still with St. Francis, he drilled a 3 to bring the score to 28-10.

St. Francis never looked back.

“If we’re going to win it all we’re going to have to keep on defending like did tonight,” Knights coach Drew Catlett said. “When we defend and rebound, our offense will take care of itself because we’ve got guys who can shoot and who can get to the rim.”

The Knights were led by Odom (20 points, four assists, two steals), Sam Hines (16 points, six rebounds, four assists, four blocks), Chase Ellis (14 points, seven rebounds, two blocks) and Riley (12 points, three steals).

The Golden Bears finished 18-10, but not before making it to the semifinals for the first time since 2000 — tying the program’s deepest playoff run, which was also accomplished in 1999.

They were led by senior guard Matt Meadows’ game-high 26 points, including four 3-pointers.

Aquinas boys 47, ECLA 41: The Aquinas Fightin’ Irish made program history by clinching their first-ever title game appearance and fended off a tough ECLA Chargers team by doing just enough on both ends of the court.

“It just took heart and us giving everything we had,” said senior guard Tre Gomillion, who was one one of two Fightin’ Irish double-digit scorers with 11 points. “We knew it was going to be a tough game, down to the wire, but I love my boys to death. One more game. We made history but we’ve still got to get a state championship.”

The No. 4-ranked Fightin’ Irish (27-5) used stingy defense and free throws — 22 of their points came from the charity stripe — to keep the Chargers at arm’s length. They led 13-11 after the first, 20-19 at halftime and 30-25 after three. 

The Chargers pulled to within 44-40 with 33.4 seconds left on Mekhi Cameron’s basket, which he was fouled on. But he missed the free throw and the game remained a free throw contest from there, with Aquinas hitting three to ECLA’s one, bringing the score to its final margin. 

ECLA attempted a 3 with 5.1 seconds left but it was an air ball that landed in the possession of the Fightin’ Irish, who ran out the clock.

“I’m very proud of my guys,” Fightin’ Irish coach Harrison Zeigler said. “I’m really happy. But we’ve still got 32 minutes.”

Senior guard Daniel Parrish led the Fightin’ Irish with 12 points.

The Chargers (28-4) were led by Jamaine Mann (15 points) and Cameron (10).

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