The North County girls basketball team hasn't exactly roared into the Class 4A Region IV playoffs.

Instead, the Knights have entered with a whimper, going 4-2 in their last six games while looking unimpressive in victory.

But last night marked the beginning of a new season, and the third-seeded Knights celebrated by breaking open a close game in the second half and defeating No. 6 and visiting LaPlata, 57-47.

North County (17-6) travels to second-seeded Broadneck, which received a first-round bye last night, for tomorrow's 7 p.m. semifinal game.

The Warriors (15-8) only trailed by three points, 40-37, midway through the third quarter. But North County ran off nine unanswered points to end the quarter and seized control.

"They did better, 1,000 times better," said North County coach Sally Entsminger. "We just had to get our shots to fall. It's a matter of confidence. The kids played with more confidence tonight."

The Warriors led throughout the first quarter until North County reserve Nicole Faulkner banked in an off-balanced three-point shot with one second left to give the hosts a 19-18 lead.

The lead grew to nine points, 32-23, before LaPlata closed the first half with a 6-2 run.

The Knights' Renita Johnson scored 12 of her game-high 22 points in the second quarter. Teammate Kim Miller, playing with badly pulled muscles in her right knee, had carried North County through the first quarter with 10 points.

Johnsondid more than just score. The junior forward finished with 16 rebounds and seven blocks in perhaps her best all-around performance of theseason.

"She was the difference in this game," Entsminger said.

"The coach told me to get in there and get some offensive rebounds," said Johnson, who was benched briefly in the first quarter. "They weren't coming in on the weak side and I took it."

Miller contributed 21 points and 15 rebounds in winning the battle with LaPlata center Dede Watson, who was plagued by early foul trouble and finished with seven points and 11 rebounds.

Reserve Erin Partain led the Warriors with 14 points. Sophomore Jennifer Hedrick matched her season's scoring average with 12 points.

The Knights commited 31 turnovers, one fewer that LaPlata.

North County now looks to Broadneck, whichwon, 39-32, when they last met.

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