By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
Maura Fiamoncini was the smallest player on the floor Saturday, but there was no one bigger than the Mount Carmel freshman at winning time.
With the Red Tornadoes trailing in the final two minutes, Fiamoncini scored the tying basket off her own steal and then took a rebound coast-to-coast for the lead.
Mount Carmel stood tall for one last Central Columbia possession in the waning seconds to win the District 4 Class AA championship, 46-44, at Shikellamy’s Lockcuff Gymnasium.
And the kid without a district gold medal before Saturday clinched a fourth for her senior teammates.
“When I saw Maura make those plays, I just had the biggest smile on my face,” said Tornadoes senior Ali Varano, who led all scorers with 21 points. “We were all doing whatever we could to win and she did a great job.”
The 5-foot Fiamoncini had 11 points, five rebounds and three steals off the bench. In the Red Tornadoes’ five-game postseason run, she averaged 7.2 points after posting a 5.4 regular-season clip.
“I was a little nervous at first, but once it started to get going I started to feel better about it,” she said. “You’ve just got to get used to it.”
Mount Carmel (23-4) needed everything Fiamoncini and her teammates had. They were badly outshot (46.2 percent to 27.7) and out-rebounded (43-30) by the sixth-seeded Blue Jays.
Not outhustled, though. That’s how the Red Tornadoes shrugged off deficits of four or more points three times in the last 12 minutes yesterday.
“They just didn’t quit,” said Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano. “They never give up.”
The Tornadoes have a first-round state playoff game against Montrose, the District 3 third-place team, Friday. Central Columbia plays District 11 juggernaut Minersville, also Friday.
The Jays (15-10) were beaten twice by Mount Carmel during the season, and they fell behind 11-6 while committing 11 turnovers in the first quarter. The Tornadoes’ relentless defense collected 11 first-half steals, which helped push the margin to 20-12 with 2:45 left in the half.
Central, however, closed with a 10-4 run, boosted by a Madeline Murtin 3-pointer to pull within 24-22 at halftime. In the third quarter, 6-foot-1 junior Lindsey Carl scored eight of her 19 points as the Jays went ahead 37-31. Carl also had seven rebounds and five blocks.
“She was killing us,” said Lisa Varano. “Once she gets the ball on the low block it’s going in — if not on the first time, it’s going in on the second time. We just had to deny her the ball. You can’t just let her rule in there; she’s an awesome player.”
When the Tornadoes trailed 31-26 in the middle of the third, they tied the score in 53 seconds. The 37-31 deficit was gone in a minute-plus. The third quarter was one of three in which Mount Carmel forced at least nine Central turnovers. The Jays had 34 by game’s end.
“We were down — we needed to play defense,” said Fiamoncini. “We did that, and we won from it.”
Though the Tornadoes limited Carl to one fourth-quarter shot, they went more than four minutes without scoring until Brianna Lutz found Fiamoncini cutting down the lane.
Still, they trailed 44-40 when Paige Hornung ran down her own rebound near the sideline and deftly slapped the ball off to Murtin to retain possession. Lutz cashed in with a baseline jumper.
“I don’t make a lot of my contributions on offense, so I try to do whatever I can on defense to help the team,” said Hornung. “I was happy to make a play like that when we needed it.”
Fiamoncini’s lightning-quick steal for the game-tying layup preceded consecutive Central turnovers on overthrown passes. Fiamoncini then bolted and scored with a rebound that sailed just beyond Carl’s reach for the lead with 55 seconds left.
“We’ve just had different people step up all year, and Maura came through there at the end,” said Lisa Varano. “It was awesome.”
“It feels pretty great,” Fiamoncini said, patting her medal. “I’d like to win three more.”