LAKE CHARLES — A day after the death of her father, North Central High School girls basketball coach Vanessa Taylor led her school to the first championship in program history Saturday.
Top-seeded North Central defeated No. 2 seed Vermilion Catholic 54-50 in a back-and-forth battle for the Class 1A title at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA girls Top 28 tournament.
Taylor’s loss gave her squad some added inspiration, which it used to win a game characterized by big runs, six lead changes and seven ties.
“He was looking forward to coming,” Taylor said. “But the girls assured me that they would win this one for me.”
Taylor’s father was not in the arena, but North Central senior Sydney Martin said the Hurricanes could feel his presence on the court. Top-seeded NCHS (30-3) was making its fourth straight tourney appearance.
“She really deserved it after all these years,” Martin said. “Her daddy may have passed away yesterday and couldn’t make it, but he was still here in spirit watching us.”
Jazlyn Robertson was voted the Allstate Sugar Bowl Class 1A Most Outstanding Player after scoring 14 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. She made the decisive go-ahead shot for the winners. Martin scored a game-high 18 points for NCHS. Quaniqua Joseph also had 14 points, nine of which came from the free throw line.
Vermilion Catholic coach Kim Guidry attributed some of the Eagles’ struggles to a flu virus that a number of her players have suffered from throughout the week. Despite those problems, Guidry said she couldn’t ask for much more from her players than what they contributed.
“My only regret is I wish we would have been healthy,” she said. “At half, we had two throwing up. … I thought my kids played well. They gave everything they had.”
Vermilion Catholic (26-5), the 2013 Class 1A champion, got a combined 32 points an 27 rebounds from Ashailee Brailey and Kaylen Collins. Both players finished with 16 points; Collins had 15 rebounds and Brailey 12.
North Central took control early with a 19-point second quarter for a 26-22 halftime lead. Vermilion Catholic came out strong to start the second half, using a 14-3 run to go up by seven midway through the third.
“I expected Vermilion Catholic to be prepared for us,” Taylor said. “(Guidry) is a veteran coach and a very successful coach. She had her girls well-prepared, and we had a hard time pulling away from them.”
North Central responded with a 9-0 run to end the quarter and take a 40-36 lead into the final period.
Both teams traded baskets in a fourth quarter that saw four ties before North Central’s Robertson hit a final go-ahead layup make it 52-50 with 1:16 remaining. The teams had traded baskets down the stretch until Robertson’s post-up move. Joseph then tacked on two free throws.
Vermilion Catholic didn’t score again. The Eagles missed three shots and had a turnover in the closing seconds.
“We did something we’ve done all year,” Taylor said. “We back off of the press and hit people with it in the fourth quarter when they’re not expecting it. That’s what helped us.”