MORGAN CITY — This time, Central Catholic refused to lose.
The highly-regarded Eagles kept their focus en route to a thrilling, 85-78, overtime win against Southern Lab Friday in Morgan City.
It was the second consecutive year Central Catholic’s regional round playoff game has gone into overtime.
While Central Catholic fell on the road last year at Louisiana New Tech at Plain Dealing, this year, the result was different.
Things started a little shaky for the Eagles as the Kittens jumped out to a 12-3 lead, forcing Central Catholic to call an early timeout.
“We got the early lead and let it slip away from us,” Southern Lab head coach Lonnie Machen said. “But give them credit. We had them on the ropes and they fought back.”
Central Catholic responded after the timeout with a basket by Dontrell Brown and a three-pointer by Josh Singleton to trail 12-8 with 2:57 remaining in the first quarter.
However, the Eagles continued to struggle on the offensive end against Lab’s athleticism.
“I told them to settle down and to tighten up on the defensive end because we were getting beat off the dribble,” Central Catholic head coach Ree Case said. “We had also missed some easy shots, and I knew those shots would start to fall. We got use to the speed, the size and athleticism of Lab and began to play much better.”
The Kittens led 22-11 after one quarter.
CCHS started the second quarter with a 9-2 run and trailed 24-23 with 5:21 left in the half.
“We extended our defense because they were hitting from the outside and that made the difference,” Case said. “If we would have given up 22 points every quarter, we would have lost.”
The second-seeded Eagles (22-4) took their first lead, 26-24, with 4:12 to play. Nick Case closed out the first half with a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 34-33 Central Catholic lead.
“We knew the third quarter would be crucial,” Case said. “We knew Lab was a third-quarter team. The Grambling coach said Lab jumped on them in the third, went up by 10, and they couldn’t recover.”
The halftime leaders for the Eagles were Brown with 17, Case with 7 and Singleton with 6.
Trent Flowers led Southern Lab with 11, while Deonte Shorts had 10.
“We played Lab a couple years ago, and they came out and outscored us 18-8 in the third quarter and we never got back in the game,” Case said. “So we stressed defense coming into the second half.”
The Eagles got off the quick start this time with Brown, Singleton and Tyler Hoffpauir giving CCHS a 41-35 lead.
Lamar Grogan began to be a big factor on the boards for CCHS in the third quarter.
Grogan had a couple key offensive rebounds, and he battled the taller Kittens on the defensive end.
“I don’t know how many rebounds Lamar had, but it had to (be) 20,” Case said. “It might not look like he did much in the stat book, but he stepped up for us tonight.”
CCHS led 52-44 going into the final period.
Southern Lab (15-17 overall), the No. 15 seed, regained some momentum when Marquise Richard threw down a monster slam dunk early in the quarter, and Flowers added a three-pointer to pull the Kittens to four.
But CCHS answered when Brown got a steal and dunk to make the score 57-49 with 4:47 to play.
Central Catholic, however, began a run of miscues as Southern Lab went to full-court pressure. The Eagles had three consecutive turnovers, and Lab took advantage to pull to 61-58 with 3:14 to play.
Central Catholic had a 66-60 lead with 2:09 to play when Lab began to intentionally foul.
The Eagles hit just 3-of-9 free throws down the stretch but led 70-68 with 17.5 seconds left in the game.
“I don’t know what happened,” Singleton said. “I usually made those late free throws. I just can’t explain it.”
With the Eagles guarding the three-point line, Flowers drove to the hoop to tie the game at 70, forcing overtime.
High school overtimes are four minutes, and each team gets one timeout.
Southern Lab jumped out to a three point lead with 3:09 to play. But, the Eagles responded with two free throws from Brown and a layup from Singleton.
Central Catholic led 74-73 with 1:51 to go.
Brown, who led CCHS with 28 points, got a huge steal on Lab’s next possession and made 1-of-2 free throws for a two point margin with 1:34.
“I was aggressive tonight because my team needed me to score,” Brown said. “I was determined not to let what happened last year happen again.”
Lab took a bad shot on the next possession and there was a tie up for the loose ball with the possession arrow favoring Central Catholic at 1:16.
Singleton, who did the bulk of the ball handling, beat the Lab press and the Eagles converted late free throws to secure the win.
Besides Brown, Singleton had 21 points; Case, 10; Hoffpauir, nine; Grogan, eight; and Brett Green, six.
The Eagles made 33-of-51 free throws and eight 3 three-pointers in the game.
Southern Lab was led by Flowers with 19; Shorts, 17; Richard, 14; Sam Forest, 10; Ray White, six; Daldrick Veal, six; and Travon Epps and Donovan Williams, three each.
Southern Lab made 17-of-27 free throws and nine three-pointers.
Central Catholic will travel to north Louisiana Tuesday to face seventh-seed Arcadia. The game is set for a 6 p.m. start, with admission set at $7.