The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 12, 2014

Girls basketball: Mount Carmel advances to state's Elite Eight

HAMBURG — Mount Carmel’s girls, as predatory a high school basketball team as you’ll find, became the hunted ones for a change Tuesday.

The Red Tornadoes were on the verge of sweeping Salisbury out of the Hamburg High gym, leading by 16 with a minute to play in the third quarter of their state second-round game.

The District 11 runner-up Falcons, though, did their best Mount Carmel impersonation over the next seven minutes, cutting their deficit to a single point with 2 minutes left.

Ali Varano halted Salisbury’s frenetic run with the Tornadoes’ first basket of the fourth quarter. Brianna Lutz then followed a bad Mount Carmel turnover with a blocked shot under the Falcons’ hoop and ignited a runout for another Varano bucket.

Izzy Stellar’s rebound of a missed 3-pointer and subsequent foul shot with four seconds to play iced a 60-56 win and sent Mount Carmel to the Class AA quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons.

“This team gives me a heart attack every time we play, but they just refuse to quit,” said Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano. “It’s just an incredible ride.”

The Red Tornadoes (25-4) play District 2 champion Dunmore on Friday at a site and time to be announced. Dunmore knocked off District 3 winner York Catholic (39-36), the team that ended Mount Carmel’s perfect season in the 2012 quarters.

That group of Tornadoes, which went 27-1 with a pair of 1,000-point scorers (Kim Andruscavage, Ranotta Ahrensfield), were expected to make some noise in states. The current team becomes more of a marvel with every tip in its current eight-game win streak.

“I’m so proud of our team,” said Stellar, who scored a season-high 15 points Tuesday. “It was kind of like David and Goliath. We were the underdogs, we were David, and David won in the end.”

Playing the role of Goliath was Meagen Eripret, a 6-foot-3 junior who averaged 22.5 points and 13 rebounds for Salisbury (18-9). She was deadly around the basket Tuesday, shooting 10-for-13, but she had no more than four shots in any quarter.

“She’s really a tremendous player, and to limit her touches is what we tried to do,” said Lisa Varano. “She still scored, but I think they made her work for everything.”

Mount Carmel threw a triple-team at Eripret — a first for coach Varano — bracketing her with guard Paige Hornung and Lutz, and then having a guard on the ball side sag to help defend.

“It was really a challenge,” said Lutz. “With two people on her, that leaves a person open on the court. So it was a challenge balancing the guards who had to move well together, and the bigs who had to guard a 6-foot-3 girl. It was tough, but it worked out.”

Eripret had four of the Falcons’ first six points, and they built an 11-6 lead after four-plus minutes. Forty seconds later, thanks to a pair of Hornung 3-pointers, Mount Carmel led. That was the start of a 13-0 run, which included another Hornung triple and buckets by Varano and Jen Bolick, who each had a foot on the 3-point line.

Bolick’s 3-pointer early in the second quarter gave Mount Carmel a 5-for-9 start from beyond the arc and a 22-17 lead. The margin grew to 28-19 midway through the period and crested at 10 points with 1:48 left in the half.

“We knew they were probably going to give us some outside shots with their defense,” said Lisa Varano. “We haven’t been hitting them in some of our games, but every girl was on and that gave us an early spark.”

Ali Varano scored 12 of her team-high 17 points and had eight of her team-high 10 rebounds in the first half. In the third quarter, Stellar scored nine points, including a pair of 3s, the second of which made it 50-34 with a minute left.

From that point, the Falcons went on a 16-2 run, forcing six Mount Carmel turnovers in a 6-minute span. Eripret had nine of her 28 points during the spurt, and converted a 3-point play that pulled Salisbury within 54-53 with 2 minutes to go.

“There wasn’t a time for panic because we knew we couldn’t quit,” said Stellar. “We’re a never-give-up team, and we were not going to lose this game.”

Ali Varano’s drive with 1:39 left and her free throw on the next trip put the Tornadoes ahead by four. Salisbury got a point back at the line and then stole the ball when Eripret grabbed an inbounds pass lobbed up for grabs to avoid a 5-second violation. Lutz, though, blocked Holly Szita at the base of the hoop and passed to Stellar, who got the ball to Varano for a 59-54 lead.

“I thought it was going to be my fifth foul and I thought we were done,” Lutz said of her block. “I was, like, ‘Holy crap, I just lost the game.’ I’m glad it was a block and not a foul.”

“I give great credit to Salisbury,” said Lisa Varano. “They didn’t roll over and die. They started beating us at our own game with the press. They just did an awesome job.”

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