---- — By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
COAL TWP. -- Christina Perles conducted a number of post-game interviews Friday lying on her back while a handsome young man massaged her legs.
Don't let the imagery fool you; it wasn't that glamorous.
In dire need of a place to recline so a trainer could work out painful cramps, Mount Carmel's senior post hit the deck in a hallway outside the Red Tornadoes' locker room at Shamokin High.
As for the interviews?
Well, the media simply couldn't wait to talk to someone who scored a season-high 30 points in just three quarters of an 80-70 state playoff win over Wilkes-Barre GAR.
Mount Carmel scored the ball as consistently Friday as in any game it played in a season that produced a third consecutive district title. Perles was the epitome of that consistency.
She had at least eight points in each of the first three periods, with a high of 11 in the third when the Red Tornadoes seized control.
"I just didn't want it to be my last game. I wanted to help my team," said Perles, wincing often despite her comfortable position. "I feel like we just really didn't want to be done with the season."
Mount Carmel (23-4) led by two after a half in which both teams averaged better than a bucket per minute. Then the Tornadoes turned up the heat and outscored GAR 29-12 in the third, closing the period with a crippling 18-2 spurt over the last four minutes.
"The girls showed some discipline," said Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano. "(GAR) kept it close in the first half, and we went to a little bit more pressure -- even with some foul trouble -- and we were able to create turnovers and score. I think that was a big key."
Tornadoes junior guard Ali Varano matched Perles with 11 third-quarter points, seven in the pivotal run. She hit a fall-away putback and then drove at imposing Grenadiers post Marie Skrepanek for a bucket that became a three-point play and the largest lead to that juncture, 53-43. The margin was 19 at quarter's end and topped 20 on an Ali Varano steal and layup three minutes into the fourth.
"It was a close game and we weren't happy with that," said Ali Varano, whose 24 points were five off her season-high. "We knew a two-point lead wouldn't be good enough. So we had to come out fast and, in the third quarter, we really stepped it up."
GAR sophomore Brea Seabrook, the Wyoming Valley Conference Division III Player of the Year, doubled her team-leading average with 29 points. Eleven of those came in the fourth, long after Mount Carmel's starters took a seat. Skrepanek, a 6-foot-2 freshman who is the daughter of former NFL lineman Greg Skrepanek, had 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.
The Grenadiers suited just seven girls and two eventually fouled out. Even while picking up fouls at an alarming rate in the first half (Mount Carmel was in the double-bonus with 7:11 to play in the half), they stayed close.
Ana Raybuck (8 points, 11 boards), Perles and Ali Varano scored on the Tornadoes' first three trips of the second quarter for a 25-19 lead. Less than two minutes later, it was 26-25.
"We didn't really expect that," Perles said of GAR's pluck. The Grenadiers continued to trade buckets in the third quarter until their turnovers began to mount. They had 11 in the period, six during Mount Carmel's run. The Tornadoes had six steals in the quarter.
"They were really frustrated and they were starting to put their heads down," said Perles.
"We didn't want this to be our last game," said Ali Varano, who added 11 rebounds and five steals, "and we weren't really happy with how we were playing in the first half."
Mount Carmel will play District 11 runner-up Pine Grove, a 49-37 winner over District 12 runner-up Imhotep Charter, in Tuesday's second round, at a time and place to be determined.