The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

March 11, 2014

Things haven't come easy for the Mount Carmel girls

— MOUNT CARMEL - There’s a stark difference between this season’s Mount Carmel girls basketball team and the similarly successful ones of recent years, besides the changing faces.

Things haven’t come as easily to these Red Tornadoes.

Not the Heartland Athletic Conference-Division II championship, which they’d won with one division loss (or none) each of the previous three years.

Not the District 4 Class AA championship, which they rolled to by an average of 20 points in the prior three title games.

And not a win in their state playoff opener, which for a long time Friday looked as though it wouldn’t be a win at all.

Mount Carmel shrugged off a four-point deficit after three quarters and floored Montrose with a 13-2 fourth-quarter run. The Tornadoes held the District 2 third-place team to just three points in the last period of a 43-33 win.

Their third second-round state game in as many years is against District 11 runner-up Salisbury Township at 7:30 tonight at Hamburg H.S. The Falcons (18-8) are led by 6-foot-3 junior center Meagan Eripret, who averages 22.5 points and 13 rebounds per game.

Mount Carmel is 24-4, and for a program that graduated three 1,000-point scorers the last two years — and also had a three-year starter leave at the beginning of this one — reaching the heights of previous teams is quite a feat.

“It doesn’t surprise me because we work so, so hard, and I believe we can accomplish a lot,” junior guard Jen Bolick said Friday. “We accomplished more than anyone expected us to, and it’s just an amazing feeling.”

The Tornadoes have had no choice but to work hard.

They’re not a particularly strong shooting team, although their percentage is usually offset by the sheer volume of their shots. They aren’t blessed with size, so it’s a often a chore to stay competitive on the boards and not allow rebounding to be their downfall.

“We’ve been outsized every game,” said Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano, “and we know we’re going to lose that rebound battle so we have to stay disciplined in other areas.”

Friday, for example, the Tornadoes were beaten on the boards 32-25 but that disparity was contained to the first half. After halftime they matched Montrose with 16 rebounds, meanwhile their defense was exceptional and they closed well enough at the foul line.

“Montrose is a really nice team, very disciplined, and it took us awhile to get our engine running, I think,” said Varano. “It’s tough when you have a week off like that. We like to keep playing over and over, and with a long week of practice it took us a little while to get moving.”

Mount Carmel trailed by seven not even 30 seconds into the second quarter Friday, yet forged a 22-all tie at halftime. The Meteors’ 30-26 lead at the end of the third was reversed — and then some — in fewer than 3 minutes by that crippling run.

“I kind of think we do better when we’re losing because it upsets us and gets us fired up,” said senior guard Ali Varano. “We’ve been behind a lot, and I think it just gets our momentum going. We know if we don’t come out as hard as we can we’re going to go home.”

Mount Carmel had to turn up the pressure and hit fouls to shake Warrior Run in the last 5 minutes of a nip-and-tuck HAC Tournament championship game.

Against a team that beat them twice in the regular season, the Tornadoes stood strong when Montoursville nearly erased an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter of their district semifinal.

And the district final turned on their late-game defense against Central Columbia post Lindsey Carl and two clutch baskets in defense-to-offense transition by freshman Maura Fiamoncini.

“You can’t panic and you can’t worry about getting back (when trailing),” said Bolick. “You just have to believe in your team, be patient with your offense and work really hard on defense.”

The average margin of victory in those games (HAC final, district semi and district final) was three points.

“There’s just something about this team,” said Lisa Varano. “It’s not always the prettiest, but they’ve been winning with defense all year long.”

In that respect, these Tornadoes may be best equipped for the vise-tight pressure of states. They’re arguably the most battle-tested of any recent Mount Carmel team.

“It brings us closer as a team when we’re in playoffs and win games like this,” said Bolick. “It just gives us more inspiration for the next game, to say, ‘You know what? We were down the last game and we can do it again.’”

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