MACON - Greater Atlanta Christian couldn't have done a better job limiting the success of Buford stars Keala Davis and Andraya Carter.
Too bad the Lady Spartans had no answer for sophomore MacKenzie Darrah, who scored a season-high 18 points to lead Buford to a 57-38 win and its third straight Class AA championship.
"I went in confident knowing I could hit my shots," Darrah said. "I was really excited and ready to play."
Darrah scored six of those points amidst a 9-0 run at the beginning of the third quarter that finally allowed the Lady Wolves (29-3) to pull away. Shareese Williams, who finished with 10 points, scored seven points in an 18-point third quarter for Buford.
"We knew someone was going to come out and play some junk defense to try and stop Kaela and Andraya, and GAC did that," Buford coach Gene Durden said. "We had some other kids step up and do a great job."
Davis, a University of Tennessee verbal commit, scored 15 points, including eight in the first half, for Buford.
"In the beginning I was focusing on getting to the rim and creating my own shot," said Davis, who won a Class AAAAA title with Norcross last year. "The team did a great job in the second half with getting open shots."
The Lady Wolves needed to because Carter was all but shut down offensively. Although she did finish with 11 rebounds, an injury to her shooting hand in the second quarter caused her to score a career-low two points.
"That was the hardest two points I've ever had to score," said Carter, who was held scoreless until she made two free throws with 1:57 left to play. "I couldn't do everything I wanted to because of my hand, but that's why they call it a team game, and I couldn't be more proud of my teammates."
Carter has been the point guard on all three Buford championship teams, and she and her coach agreed that the latest title is different than the previous two.
"This was the toughest and hardest season," Carter said.
"This game was ugly, and we didn't play our best, but we won and that's all that matters."
Buford started off slow, scoring only five points in the first 4:40 of the game, but then it went on a 10-4 run to close the quarter to take a 13-9 lead.
Durden credited the Lady Spartans (25-8) and their familiarity with the Lady Wolves as one of the reason's his team struggled early on.
"It's a tough situation to play a team four times," said Durden, whose team went 2-1 against GAC during the regular season and Region 6-AA tournament. "Give credit to GAC because that's a great team, and they're not the runner-up because they're some slouch."
GAC got within two points with 2:35 left in the first half, but a Darrah 3-pointer quickly extended the lead to five.
Two Kristina Nelson free throws cut deficit to one, but Darrah answered again with a short jumper that banked in as time expired to give Buford a 20-17 lead at intermission.
A 9-0 run gave Buford an 11-point lead with 1:53 left in the third, which it needed because Carter headed to the bench after picking up her fourth foul 20 seconds later.
Her absence didn't slow down the Lady Wolves, and a Williams layup from Dillard increased the lead to 13 with a little more than a minute to play in the third.
That lead ballooned to 15 points with 2:30 left in the game, and Buford's clock-killing offense and free throw shooting never allowed the Lady Spartans to get any closer.
"This year was a challenge because it was all about getting the puzzle pieces to fit together," Durden said.
"There are a lot of kids on this team who could play on other teams and be superstars, but they sacrifice to be a part of this program."
Five seniors - Jocelyn Kinsey, Karly Fullem, Williams, Constance Harrison and Shareka Peeples - graduate off this year's team, but since the bulk of their nucleus, including Carter, Davis, Darrah and Maya Dillard, are underclassmen, the Lady Wolves are in a prime position to make it a four-peat next season.