By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
MIFFLINBURG -- Danville's and Mount Carmel's girls teams christened the Pennsylvania Heartland Athletic Conference tournaments in style, playing more than game's worth of riveting basketball.
The Ironmen, who were on the verge of being left in the dust early by the three-time HAC-II champions, owned the overtime period for a 58-53 win in a semifinal Wednesday at Mifflinburg H.S.
Freshman Amber Renz scored five of her 15 points in OT, including a putback hook that became a go-ahead three-point play and two free throws which made it a two-possession game with 19 seconds left.
Danville outscored the Red Tornadoes 8-3 in overtime, blanking them after Ana Raybuck's 3-pointer on Mount Carmel's second trip, a span of nearly four scoreless minutes.
"We had to play our game, which is defense, because they're a great offensive team," said Ironmen junior Erica Heath. "I thought we handled it well and kept our heads up."(With the win, the Ironmen (17-4) ensured themselves a game every day this week between Sundays. They'll face HAC-III champion Benton (19-4) in the HAC tournament final 6 p.m. Saturday at Williamsport's Magic Dome. Danville beat Benton 58-47 on Dec. 8.
Mount Carmel (18-4) hadn't lost since Jan. 18 at Marian Catholic, stringing together nine wins.
"I think we kind of had it at the end there and let it slip away," said Tornadoes coach Lisa Varano. "We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit with some turnovers at the wrong time. That's the way it goes sometimes."
The Tornadoes committed five turnovers in overtime, the last a travel in the lane when trailing by two with a half-minute left. Renz followed the turnover with her two free throws, and Siobhan Bross added another after a defensive rebound.
The game's first four minutes unfolded virtually the opposite of the last four. Danville had immediate trouble with Mount Carmel's press, committed four turnovers and fell behind 9-4.
When the Ironmen took better care of the ball, they began to pile up the points. Heath scored 10 points in the quarter (to go with four rebounds), and Donie Ann Keeley added five more, including a 3-pointer that knotted the score at 13.
"From scrimmaging them a little bit of a scouting report, we knew if we could break the front line of the press we could get a good shot down inside. We did that," said Danville coach Steve Moser. "Donie Ann hit a couple from the corner, and Erica hit some. They did what they were supposed to do and did it very well."
Heath eclipsed her season average in the first quarter (and surpassed her season-high by one with 18 points), but she also gave the Ironmen confidence as the early deficit was a memory by period's end.
"We knew they were really tough and they are a great team, so we knew we had to step it up," Heath said. "It just so happened I had a good start."
Mount Carmel's season scoring leaders, seniors Christina Perles and Ali Varano, had four points each in a second-quarter run that put the Tornadoes ahead 27-23. They went scoreless for the final three minutes of the half, though, and Danville led 32-27 at the break.
Danville pushed the margin to eight early in the second half, but the Tornadoes generated five turnovers (four steals) and knotted the score at 39 after three quarters. Danville shot 3-for-16 in the third.
"We talked about giving a little more effort," said Lisa Varano.
"Both teams have a lot of games going on this week. I think we're tired, they're tired, and we talked about digging down deep a little more and putting a better effort out there. I'm happy with the effort they gave in the second half."
Raybuck, who led Mount Carmel with 16 points, hit a 3-pointer late in regulation, and an Ali Varano free throw made it 50-48 with 1:20 left. Siobhan Bross made a driving layup for the tie with 17 seconds showing, and the Tornadoes turned it over on their last touch.