Wilcox County falls short in semis

Wilcox County ruined Wesleyan’s chance for a repeat state football championship in December.

The Wolves returned the favor Wednesday against Wilcox County on the basketball court when they upset the third-ranked Patriots 71-51 in the GHSA Class A semifinals at the Macon Coliseum.

The loss ended the Patriots’ quest to become the first team since Mitchell-Baker 20 years ago to win both the football and boys basketball state championships in the same school year.

Wilcox County played the underdog in December when it traveled to top-ranked Wesleyan and came away with a 20-15 win in the quarterfinals in football. Wilcox County beat Savannah Christian two weeks later to win its first state football championship.

The warm feeling from that cold December evening was replaced with one of disgust Wednesday.

The Wolves (25-6) outscored Wilcox County 41-22 in the second half, pulling away much like Whitefield Academy did against the Patriots in last year’s semifinals.

“We didn’t jell when we needed to,” Wilcox County head coach George Kennedy said. “To play like this is a disappointment. We are a much better team than this.”

Wilcox County (26-3) trailed by 10 on a basket by Lonnie Outlaw at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Patriots lost their composure shortly thereafter. Wilcox County was assessed three technical fouls during the fourth quarter, including one on Patriots star Nick Marshall following a hard personal foul with 3:17 to play. The two fouls gave Marshall five, and the player who averages close to 30 points per game had to sit on the bench the rest of the way. Marshall scored a team-high 18 points.

“Of course we lost our composure,” Kennedy said. “It has been one of our shortcomings. We’re not as mentally tough as we need to be. We can’t blame everybody else for everything. We have to look within ourselves and take some of that blame.”

Wesleyan made the Patriots pay for all of the mishaps with a strong free-throw shooting performance. The Wolves made 27-of-35 free throws, including 15-of-20 in the fourth quarter.

Wilcox County couldn’t cut into the Wesleyan’s lead with its struggles from the floor and an inability to stay out of foul trouble. Outlaw, the Patriots’ second-leading scorer, also fouled out.

Wilcox County started off the game on a much different note than it ended it on.

The Patriots jumped out to a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter on the shoulders of Marshall, who exploded for three big dunks earlier.

But Wesleyan stayed steady and eventually overcame a nine-point, second-quarter deficit to lead 30-29 at the half.

Wesleyan will attempt to win both the boys and girls state championships in the same season for the second time in three years.