MORGAN CITY — With Central Catholic standout Meo Knight on the sidelines for much of the second half in foul trouble, Central Catholic’s other starters turned it up a notch.
Their performance, in turn, helped Central Catholic reach a new level, at least in its modern girls’ basketball history, as the squad defeated Tensas High School, 59-43, in the Class 1A quarterfinals Monday.
Now, Central Catholic, Class 1A’s fourth seed, will have a rematch with No. 1 seed West St. John in the Class 1A semifinals Thursday at 6:15 p.m. at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.
When Central Catholic was Class 1A’s top-ranked squad last year, West St. John, then an eighth-seed, knocked them out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals in Morgan City.
Instead of sadness this year, though, the squad had much to be happy about after the win. Add their coach, Jamarr Garrett, to that group.
Garrett, who was on the school’s faculty but not coaching the squad a year ago, said he thought last year’s loss benefited this year’s squad.
“They learned from that,” he said. “Now they know what it takes. You can’t just go out there and win with talent. You got to put it all together.”
In Monday’s win, Knight had picked up her third foul with 4:25 remaining in the second quarter, and in the third quarter, she picked up her third with about 4:50 remaining on a drive to the hoop by Helena Hill.
Hill sank both free throws to cut the Central Catholic advantage to 36-30 at the time.
While Knight went to the bench and sat for the remainder of the third and didn’t return until 3:23 remained in the fourth quarter, her teammates stepped up.
“I was upset that I couldn’t be in (the game in) the third quarter, but my teammates really stepped up and did what they had to do so we could get a big lead and still keep pushing,” Knight said.
Hill’s free throws provided Tensas the closest deficit it would have for the remainder of the game as Central Catholic went on a 15-6 run to end the third quarter and take a 51-36 lead after three periods.
Central Catholic’s Megan Landry, Abbie Bergeron and Caroline Byrne came up with big shots in the quarter, while Randi Brown also had a big three-pointer late in the period.
Both Brown and McDaniel had key assists in the run, including one by McDaniel on a bucket by Landry for Central Catholic’s final basket of the third quarter.
“Of course Meo is a really big part of the team, so we knew we had to step it up a notch and everybody did,” Bergeron said. “Everybody came together as a team. And we really pulled ahead, I find, in the third quarter.”
Brown credited McDaniel with helping to keep things running smoothly with Knight out.
“She’s a key player … in everything we do,” Brown said. “And with everybody stepping up like Megan and Abbie and Caroline all hitting key shots in the game … it was really key.”
While Tensas cut the deficit to 10 at 53-43 in the fourth quarter on a bucket by Hill, Central Catholic was able to almost literally run out the clock. After Knight returned at the 3:23 mark, the Lady Eagles drained considerable time off the clock simply by moving the ball around on offense and Tensas did not foul.
By the time Central Catholic was forced to shoot, McDaniel stood at the free throw line with 1:14 remaining.
She made one of two free throws and Knight made one of two attempts with about 38.3 seconds left for the final margin.
Garrett said keeping Knight out for so long in the second half showed his confidence in the others on the team.
“At the end of our scouting report, I had a little quote and then after the quote I had a question. I said, ‘Do you trust the girl on (the) side of you?’ And it obviously showed I trust you and so should you, but they responded with Meo on the bench,” he said.
He also credited Bergeron's and Courtney McGuire's and Byrne’s defensive play in the second half in the box-and-1, which they used to defend Tensas guard Mary Jones.
In the first quarter, Central Catholic started the contest on a tear as they forced numerous Tensas turnovers, while on offense, the squad was hitting shots.
The Lady Eagles raced out to as much as a 15-3 lead on McDaniel’s shot before Tensas slowly began to work its way back into the contest.
By the end of the first quarter, the Lady Panthers trailed 21-14.
In the second quarter, the Lady Panthers continued their comeback as the Lady Eagles had to play part of the quarter without Knight, who picked up her third foul with 4:25 remaining on a play in which she fouled Jones and Jones made the basket.
Jones converted the free throw for the three-point play to cut the Tensas deficit to 28-22.
While Central Catholic burned clock towards the end of the first half by working the ball around on offense during the final portion of the first half, Tensas continued to claw their way back as a basket by Jones with about nine seconds remaining cut the visitors’ deficit to 28-26.
The score would remain the same heading into intermission.
Knight said she wasn’t concerned after Tensas made that run.
“I knew we would win the game, especially how we played the first quarter,” she said. “We just had to come out the second half and play like we played at the beginning of the first.”
Knight and Brown both scored 14 for Central Catholic while McDaniel added 13 and Bergeron, nine, to lead the squad.
As for Thursday’s game, Central Catholic will have a fan bus leaving at 2:30 p.m. More details will follow.