The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 17, 2014

Red Tornadoes earn HAC championship

MONTOURSVILLE — Players and coaches have made “wanting it more” as tired a sports cliché as there is.

Sometimes, though, they really do want it more and they prove it, like Mount Carmel’s girls did Monday.

In a fierce battle for the Heartland Athletic Conference tournament championship, the Red Tornadoes’ decisive plays were a result of determination more than skill.

From Ali Varano’s very literal steal to an improbable rebound from Maura Fiamoncini, the HAC-II champions refused to stand idly by as Warrior Run made a late charge.

And when Jen Bolick’s 3-pointer went down, the Tornadoes’ lead was as commanding as a four-point margin can be in a fourth quarter otherwise played at the foul line.

For the second time in two weeks, Mount Carmel held off Warrior Run with key plays and foul shooting, winning the second HAC Tournament title, 40-35, at sold-out Montoursville H.S.

“Warrior Run’s a good team and it’s a hard matchup,” said Varano. “But I’m a senior, and we talked about it before: We’re not losing this one.”

The Red Tornadoes (20-4) notched their fourth consecutive 20-win season and enter the District 4-AA playoffs as the top seed, just ahead of Warrior Run (19-5). The Defenders haven’t beaten the Tornadoes since Jan. 6, 2010, but they’ve been within a possession or tied late in the fourth quarter twice this month.

“Defensively, the girls did everything you could ask them to do,” said Defenders coach Jon Weaver. “Defense kept us in the game; we just could not turn the ball over and miss foul shots in a game like that.

“Down the stretch, we did not do what we needed to do to win the ball game.”

The teams shook off a miserable first half, in which they combined to shoot just 17 percent from the floor (6-for-36), by playing a back-and-forth third quarter.

“Warrior Run is an excellent team, and when you play a team for the third time ... they’re not going anywhere,“ said Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano.

Warrior Run got its first tie of the game on a Steph Shamburg bucket, and led on Shamburg free throws shortly after. The senior standout scored a game-high 15 points, including 9-of-12 shooting at the line, to go with six rebounds and three steals. She and Abby Fisher closed the third with pairs of free throws to tie the score at 27.

The score was knotted at 29 early in the fourth when Varano ran to the sideline across the floor from Warrior Run’s bench and ripped the ball from Shamburg’s arms. The resulting fastbreak put Fiamoncini on the line and the freshman hit the go-ahead free throws. “Just wanted the ball,” Ali Varano explained. “It was a close game. She took it right down the court a time before and went through everyone, so ...” After Shamburg tied it at 31 from the line, the 5-foot-maybe Fiamoncini battled and beat a few far taller Defenders for the ball on a Mount Carmel miss. She was fouled and made a free throw that put the Tornadoes ahead.

“You’ve just got to stay with it all the time. It doesn’t matter how tall or small anybody is, really,” said Fiamoncini. “Defense is the name of the game. I think we played great defense all around. It was a great team effort.”

Moments later, Fiamoncini made a steal under the Warrior Run basket and, on the other end, Bolick knocked down a 3-pointer for a 35-31 lead with 2:37 left.

“That was a huge 3-point shot. It was a great spark,” said Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano. “I could see all the girls rally around her, and it switched the momentum.”

Two Ali Varano free throws put Mount Carmel ahead 37-31. Despite having no regular who shoots better than 58 percent from the line, the Tornadoes made 8 of 13 foul shots in the fourth quarter Monday. They made 11 of 13 in the final period to beat the Defenders on Feb. 4.

“I think as the season has gone on, they’re gaining some discipline and confidence,” said Lisa Varano. “They know what they need to do, and those are precious points. If we miss them, it’s a different game.

“I just think the effort of our girls defensively and after loose balls and on the boards — from every one of them, really — was just tremendous.”

The Defenders committed 26 turnovers, seven in each of the first two quarters and eight in the fourth.

“I thought we showed our youth at times,” said Weaver. “I don’t know how many times we had the ball underneath, wide open, and bobbled the ball, didn’t get a shot off or turned it over.”

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