By David Purdum / For the AJC
Wheeler had survived one last challenge from Peachtree Ridge, and the chant began from the Wildcats’ raucous student section.
“Drive home safely. Drive home safely.”
Peachtree Ridge was headed home. Wheeler’s headed to the Final Four, again.
Elijah Staley led all scorers with 17 points, most coming on emphatic dunks, and the host Wildcats rolled past Peachtree Ridge, 60-47, in quarterfinal action Wednesday night at The Lip.
Wheeler will face the Hillgrove at 5:30 p.m., Saturday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion. It’s the ninth Final Four appearance for the Wildcats under coach Douglas Lipscomb.
Staley had five dunks, including one to open the fourth quarter that put Wheeler up 51-37. The junior was the best athlete on the floor. He went baseline and threw down a left-hander with no one challenging him at the rim.
“Elijah played like he’s capable of playing, like he’s played all year,” said Lipscomb.
The Wildcats’ lead would grow to 16 on an alley-oop from Austin Smoak to Daniel Giddens in the fourth quarter, before Peachtree Ridge made its last push.
Senior Jordan Capps drew a foul and hit a hanging layup that cut the Wheeler lead to eight with 2:07 to play. But the Lions would get no closer and had their season end at the hand of Lipscomb’s Wildcats for the third time in the last five seasons.
“When they made runs, we persevered,” said Lipscomb, who has the Wildcats in position to win their sixth state championship. “That’s a good team, and we knew they were going to make their runs.”
Peachtree Ridge was able to stay close in the first half, thanks to three 3-pointers from Brandon Banks. But the Lions could not buy a shot from the outside in the second half, allowing Wheeler to break open what was a close game throughout the first half.
Avery Patterson hit consecutive 3-pointers early in the third quarter, and Wheeler never looked back.
Lipscomb mixed in zone and man-to-man defenses. Both were effective in limiting the Lions’ on the inside.
“Their length did bother us,” said Peachtree Ridge coach Keith Arrington, who won his 600th game this season. “They tipped a lot more passes. I can think six or seven times that if they don’t get a hand on the ball we have a layup.”
Arrington said his program continues to take steps up the ladder, but needs to “quit meeting these guys in the playoffs,” referring to Wheeler.
These two teams will start next season highly ranked and very well could meet again in the 2014 playoffs. Both have young, talented cores. For Peachtree Ridge, freshman point guard Aaron Augustin will be a star. Wheeler has only two seniors who play key minutes.
Patterson had 15, and Smoak added 11 for the Wildcats.
Capps finished with 16, but was the only Lion to reach double figures.
Halftime: Wheeler 30, Peachtree Ridge 24