The Central Catholic Lady Eagles celebrate following their Class 1A state championship win against North Central Saturday. The Lady Eagles rallied in the final 28.3 seconds to scored six points and overcome a three-point deficit for a 67-64 victory. Look for more photos from the game and and the celebration that followed on page 12. (The Daily Review/Geoff Stoute)
Central Catholic’s Randi Brown, left, and Meo Knight pose for a picture with the Class 1A Outstanding Player plaque that was given to Brown. Moments after accepting the plaque, Brown called Knight over to celebrate the moment. (The Daily Review/Geoff Stoute)
In a back and forth, tightly contested game, Central Catholic’s seniors took the reins and led the school to its first-ever girls basketball title with a 67-64 victory against North Central in the Class 1A state title game Saturday at Burton Coliseum.
While North Central and Central Catholic had traded leads through the game, the Lady Eagles found themselves in serious jeopardy of falling Saturday as they trailed 63-60 with less than a minute remaining and were forced to foul North Central to keep themselves in the game.
With North Central at the free throw line with 39.2 seconds remaining and a chance to further extend its lead, junior forward Jazlyn Robertson missed both free throws.
The teams traded free throws soon after with North Central taking a 64-61 lead with 36.5 seconds remaining.
That lead was quickly whittled to one on Central Catholic senior Randi Brown’s bucket, and the Lady Eagles called timeout with 28.4 seconds remaining.
From there, Central Catholic sank its next four free throws. The first two were by Meo Knight with 14.4 seconds remaining to overtake North Central for good at 65-64.
Following the inbounds after Knight’s free throws, Gee Garrett leaped for a steal on a pass down court and was fouled on the play. She converted two more free throws for a 67-64 advantage with 8.8 seconds remaining.
North Central got the ball down the court for its final possession and while Robertson’s 3-point attempt bobbled around in the rim, it wouldn’t fall, allowing the Lady Eagles to preserve the victory.
“Down the stretch, I just thought we executed really well,” Central Catholic coach Jamarr Garrett said. “We had a good game plan coming in. We were shaky at the beginning and we just found a way.”
Garrett predicted following the semifinal win that free throws would play a big part in the contest, and he was right, as the Lady Eagles stayed in the contest by connecting on 29 of 35 attempts.
“I just told all three of them in the hallway: What won us that game is what’s been carrying us all year long and that’s been free throws and we just did a great job down the stretch making them,” Garrett said.
Brown, who finished the game with a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds as well as two assists and two steals, was named the game’s Outstanding Player.
Just like they worked together on the court when attention is focused on one of them, so too, did the duo celebrate the MVP award together as after she received the Outstanding Player award, Brown called Knight up to celebrate in the moment.
“We’re outstanding players together, and I felt like we should have gotten that award together,” Brown said.
Knight had 25 points, eight rebounds, two blocks, two assists and three steals in the victory.
Early on, both teams were plagued with foul trouble as Central Catholic’s Brown went to the bench with her second foul with nearly five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
She stayed there for the rest of the quarter as North Central and Central Catholic were tied at 14 after the opening period.
On the other side, North Central also had foul trouble in the opening period as Central Catholic already was in a one-in-one situation with 57 seconds remaining after North Central picked up its seventh foul in the opening period.
Two North Central players had three fouls by the end of the quarter and North Central fouls would be something that Central Catholic would benefit from via the free throw line for the rest of the contest.
“We kind of got taken out of our game plan defense because (it) looked like every time we attempted to steal the ball or when we deflected a pass, a foul was called, so we had to slack off our defense. Our defense is usually very aggressive,” North Central head coach Vanessa Taylor said.
In the second period, the fouls continue to mount for North Central, while the game went back and forth.
North Central took a 20-16 lead following Shavonta Bush’s 3-pointer, the second of two consecutive treys by the Lady Canes for a 20-16 lead early.
North Central added an inside bucket for a 22-18 advantage.
The game remained close between the two teams, and Central Catholic took a 33-31 lead on a steal and shot by Brown late in the quarter.
However, Adrianna Edwards grabbed an offensive rebound and made a buzzer beater to tie the game at 33 at the half.
Central Catholic struggled all game on the defensive boards as the taller Lady Canes got second- and third-chance shots.
In the third quarter, Central Catholic fell behind 38-33 early as North Central scored the quarter’s first five points.
However, Central Catholic responded with an inside bucket by Megan Landry off an assist by Brown after penetrating late for a 38-35 deficit, while Central Catholic later took the lead at 39-38 on another bucket by Landry after getting another dish from a teammate.
With Knight and Brown drawing the attention of North Central defenders, Landry provided a big spark for the Lady Eagles as she scored 12 points and made six of seven field goal attempts. She also had six rebounds and one block.
Asked to talk about her performance after the game, a beaming Landry said, “I’m just happy to win a state championship for my school and to be able to play with these girls. It was an honor and it was so much fun.”
While Central Catholic took a 48-47 lead after three quarters, in the fourth quarter, the lead again went back and forth as the largest lead in the quarter was four at 61-57 on Edwards’ bucket late before the dramatic finish.
Sydney Martin led North Central with 27 points and also had five rebounds, three steals, one assist and one block, while Robertson had 12 points, eight rebounds and two steals.
The state championship and storybook ending capped the hoops careers of CCHS' four seniors, Knight, Brown, Anastasia Johnson and Gee Garrett.
“It’s the way to definitely end your senior year,” Johnson said.
NOTE: Both Knight and Brown were later named to the Girls’ Top 28 All-Tournament team. Salmen’s Kalani Brown was named the tournament MVP.
Additional reporting by www.nola.com