North Central High earned its way back into the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Class 1A semifinals with a 72-61 quarterfinal playoff win over Southern Lab in the McKinley High School gym Monday night.

“This was one of our goals for the year,” said North Central coach Vanessa Taylor, whose team fell to Louisiana New Tech-Plain Dealing in last season’s semifinals.

The visitors led the entire game, pushing the margin to as much as 17 points in the third quarter, but Southern Lab kept fighting back.

“I’m proud of my girls,” SLHS coach Henry Combs said. “We’re so young. Jacqueline Bartley is my only senior. Doniesha Young is a junior, and I played a freshman, a sixth-grader and a seventh-grader.

“North Central played a good game, a real good game. That’s the best I’ve seen them shoot.”

Young led Lab with 22 points, while Bartley added 17 and freshman Myia Forbes finished with nine.

Late-arriving fans missed plenty of action as both teams opened with the pedal to the metal with full-court pressure and fastbreaks. North Central (27-4) opened up an 11-point lead at 18-7, and the biggest question was how long the teams could keep up the pace.

The Hurricanes led 23-17 at the end of the first quarter, and the margin would have been larger except for Bartley’s late 3-pointer and layup at the buzzer, which kept the Kittens close.

Things slowed down in the second quarter as North Central didn’t score for the first 3:43. Southern Lab (19-8) whittled the lead to 23-21. Then the Hurricanes got back on track and pulled out to a 36-27 halftime lead.

The visitors threatened to put the game away in the third quarter, moving ahead 53-36, but Lab came back again, at one point forcing four straight turnovers and cutting the lead to 59-54 behind five straight points by Young.

“That’s been a problem for us all year,” Taylor said of the Hurricanes’ occasional lapses. “The first quarter we got into our transition game, and in the second quarter, we stopped. I wasn’t happy with that.

“We’ve been blessed to be able to recuperate, and tonight, we got back it back in the fourth quarter. We just have to be consistent and do it for four quarters,” she said.

Southern Lab saw its hopes fade in the fourth quarter. With 3:15 left, the Kittens turned the ball over on a traveling call, Forbes was called for a technical foul for reacting to the call, and Young was injured on a play away from the ball.

Young would return, but Forbes and Bartley later fouled out, and North Central iced the game from the free throw line.

Taylor said her team has regularly scored in the 70s this season, and balanced scoring has been one of its hallmarks.

“They take turns being the leading scorer. In our last game, we had five people in double figures,” she said.

The Hurricanes’ top scorer on the season, Aleyah Vallien, was held to four points but her teammates more than took up the slack, with three of them reaching double figures.

Chelsey Fontenot scored 21 points, six coming on two 3-pointers in the third quarter and nine more in the fourth. The others in double figures were Shawontae Bush with 11 and Adrianna Edwards off the bench with 10.