The Holy Innocents’ girls basketball team has seen regular-season success against Wesleyan fail to translate into victories in the state championship game.
This time was different.
The top-ranked Golden Bears (23-6) got 25 points and 10 rebounds from sophomore forward Jillian Hollingshead and led from start to finish in a 75-48 victory over Wesleyan in the Class A private-school final Wednesday at the Macon Coliseum.
This was the fifth consecutive season in which the two Region 5-A rivals met for the title, with Wesleyan winning three of the previous four. The victory gave Holy Innocents’ a three-game sweep of the No. 3-ranked Wolves (27-4) this season. Last year, the Golden Bears had won three times during the season before losing 61-44 in the final.
“It’s awesome to be on the other end, especially when we’ve got a team that put in a ton of hours,” Holy Innocents’ coach Nichole Dixon said. “Every team can say that, every kid can say it, but we really can say it. We watched hours and hours of film; we had extremely efficient practices that were college-like. I’ve got a great coaching staff that helps keep the kids accountable on and off the court, keeps their minds set in the right direction. I’m just really excited for them. They have truly earned it.”
The championship was the third in program history for Holy Innocents’, which also won in 1999 and 2016.
Freshman Marya Hudgins gave the Golden Bears the lead for good when she scored the game’s first points on a 3-pointer 35 seconds in. The lead grew to five points by the end of the quarter and nine at halftime.
Then Hollingshead took over, scoring Holy Innocents’ first nine points of the third quarter as part of a 15-9 run that increased the lead to 15 points for the first time, at 42-27 with 2:43 to play in the quarter. Hudgins hit another 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter to make it 51-34, and Holy Innocents’ opened the fourth with a 12-2 run to put the game away. Jada Farrell scored six of her 18 points during that stretch.
Wesleyan’s A.C. Carter kept her team in the game for a while. She scored half of her team’s 18 first-half points and added five more in the third quarter as the Bears were pulling away. Carter finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Paige Lyons scored 11 points and Nicole Azar had 10 for the Wolves.
Holy Innocents’ dominated almost every statistical category, but perhaps none more than in rebounds, where it finished with a 45-29 advantage. Rachel Suttle finished with a team-leading 12, and Cierra Foster and Farrell had six each to go along with Hollingshead’s 10. The Golden Bears also had big advantages in field-goal percentage (52.0 to 30.4), free-throw percentage (70.4 to 45.5) and assists (16-6).
“Our team did a great job defensively and executing,” Dixon said. “We’ve been telling them for the last two months that if they can play up-tempo defense and move as a unit, that would create their offense. And it really gave us the energy we needed to move into the offense and play up-tempo.”
It’s possible this championship series will continue. Only one player on either roster, Wesleyan’s Callie Weaver, is a senior.
Holy Innocents’ (75): Rachel Suttle 7, Cierra Foster 8, Marya Hudgins 9, Jada Farrell 18, Jillian Hollingshead 25, Caroline Berkey, Ellie Crosswell, Ansley Diaz, Logan Jackson 4, Charlsie Birkel 4, Renee Davis, Naja Reeves.
Wesleyan (48): Paige Lyons 11, Nicole Azar 10, Izzy Larsen 1, Callie Weaver, A.C. Carter 17, Teagan Wilenioh, Jessie Parish 3, Kaylynn Karklen, Alyssa Phillip 6, Sade Ojanuga, Imani Washington.
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