Mercer (27-4) got this one despite trailing 48-43 with less than five minutes to play. The Lady Scotties used a 13-3 run to turn that five-point deficit into a five-point lead.
Back-to-back 3-point goals by Erin Ashford vaulted them into the lead, and they hit 12 of 16 free throws during and after that run to secure a spot in the semifinals.
But as was the case in their 65-60 comeback win over Garrard County in last week's 46th District Tournament final, they struggled in the type of game they have often won handily.
Mercer forced North Laurel (13-15) into 26 turnovers, but it also allowed the Lady Jaguars to shoot 46 percent from the field.
And like their opponents, who had 22 field goals, the Lady Scotties had more turnovers (22) than baskets (26).
"We just weren't real disciplined on either end, offense or defense," Souder said.
"I hate to say it, but I don't think that we were really ready to play," Mercer guard Chelsea Goodman said. "Even though we had a game like we did against Garrard, I think we just kind of thought we could show up, but evidently they showed us we couldn't."
Claunch warms up, then sits out
Mercer played its second game without guard Chrystal Claunch, who suffered a knee injury Feb. 19. She warmed up with her teammates but was kept on the bench in hopes of having her ready for Monday's semifinal against McCreary Central.
The Lady Scotties have committed 41 turnovers in two games without Claunch, and Goodman said their offense just isn't the same without her.
"I have to play point guard, and it's a different position for me," Goodman said. "It's different for everybody. Hopefully she'll be back on Monday so everything will be better."
Center Erica Lee, who replaced Claunch in the starting lineup, led Mercer with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Goodman added 15 points. All five Mercer starters scored in double figures.
And the Lady Scotties were deadly accurate at the free-throw line, where they were 18-for-22 and North Laurel was just 9-for-20.
When North Laurel was forced to foul, Mercer knocked down seven of 10 shots in the final 1:13.
"Once we got to that point, I felt pretty comfortable," Souder said.
Goodman and Jillian Horn each hit five of six free throws, Lee was 4-for-6 and Sabrina Manning and Erin Ashford were each 2-for-2.
Reserve guard Lindsey Alford didn't score but had a handful of steals, and Souder said her work on defense was invaluable.
"A lot of people won't notice that, but we might not be here if not for her defense," Souder said.
Ashford's 3-pointers spark run
Ashford's two 3-pointers, both off assists by Goodman, sparked the decisive Mercer run.
"That just shows Erin's leadership," Goodman said. "It takes guts to shoot a 3 when you're down by that much, but she was confident in herself, and ... you've got to take chances."
Ashford's first 3 tied the game at 48-all, and her second gave Mercer the lead for good at 51-50 with 3:55 remaining. Goodman added a basket of her own, and Lee hit three of four free throws to give the Lady Scotties a 56-51 lead with 1:54 to play.
North Laurel had only one field goal after that.
Mercer led for most of the first half, though never by more than six points.
The lead grew to 36-27 midway through the third quarter with a 12-4 run that included six points off turnovers.
North Laurel rallied to within two by the end of the period, then outscored the Lady Scotties 9-2 over the first 2:31 of the fourth quarter.
But Sarah Hughes, who led the Lady Jaguars with 17 points, missed two free throws after Horn was hit with a technical foul.
And though Kayla Bargo hit a 3-pointer on their next possession to make it 48-43, Mercer recovered to tie the game less than a minute later.
NORTH LAUREL (13-15) - Ali Ray 8, Heather Helton 6, Sarah Hughes 17, Haley Hensley 2, Casey Karr 9, Caitie Jackson 5, Kayla Bargo 8.
MERCER (27-4) - Erica Lee 16, Jillian Horn 11, Sabrina Manning 10, Chelsea Goodman 15, Erin Ashford 11.