By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
COAL TOWNSHIP —
With a third consecutive District 4 Class AA basketball title just 32 minutes away, the Mount Carmel girls started Saturday’s championship against Southern Columbia looking to make quick work of the Tigers.
The Red Tornadoes built an 11-point first-quarter lead, but Mount Carmel couldn’t sustain its early intensity.
With 44 seconds left in the first half, Southern Columbia was within four points.
“I think we came out real hard, but it’s hard to keep that kind of intensity for 32 minutes,” Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano said. “I think they let up a little bit.”
However as has become their signature, the Red Tornadoes’ defense forced two late turnovers to push the lead to eight points at the break.
Mount Carmel then overwhelmed Southern Columbia in the second half, holding the Tigers without a field goal in the third quarter, on its way to a 66-43 victory at Shamokin H.S.
“We were in the locker room (at halftime) talking and we said to each other we had to close this out,” Mount Carmel forward Ana Raybuck said. “I think (the end of the first half) really brought our spirits up.”
Mount Carmel (22-4) advances to play Meyers, the District 2 third-place team, Saturday at a District 4 site. Southern Columbia (21-4) faces District 11 champion Notre Dame-Green Pond on Saturday at a District 11 site.
Mount Carmel’s Paige Hornung and Southern Columbia’s Kayla Lavella exchanged 3-pointers to open the game before the Red Tornadoes went on a 15-4 run to open a 19-7 lead late in the first quarter. Raybuck and Christina Perles were outstanding for Mount Carmel in the opening quarter. Perles had six points and four rebounds, while Raybuck had four points, five rebounds and three assists.
“We saw early we could push the ball against their defense,” Varano said. “We stayed in that rhythm.”
Southern Columbia got back into the game in the second quarter, attacking the Red Tornadoes’ pressure defense and getting to the foul line. The Tigers went the final 3:40 of the first half without a field goal, but they were able to cut the Mount Carmel lead to 32-28 with 44 seconds left in the first half by making eight consecutive foul shots.
However, Perles and Ali Varano were able to score two buckets over the final 44 seconds to push Mount Carmel’s lead to 36-28 at halftime.
“We needed to close it out,” Perles said. “We knew it wasn’t over.”
Mount Carmel scored the first nine points of the third quarter. Raybuck capped the spurt with a short jumper to give the Red Tornadoes a 45-28 lead midway through the third quarter.
The Mount Carmel defense forced Southern Columbia into five turnovers and 0-of-10 shooting in the third stanza. The Tigers managed just four foul shots in the quarter and went nearly 12 minutes of game time without a field goal.
“We’ve been working hard on our defensive game all year. Southern is a great team and they can score a lot of points,” Lisa Varano said. “It’s credit to our defensive effort that we held them to 43 points.”
Perles led Mount Carmel with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Raybuck stuffed the stat sheet. The junior forward finished with 15 points, 17 rebounds, six assists, four blocks and three steals. Ali Varano chipped in 10 points. With starting guards Hornung and Isabella Stellar in foul trouble, Jen Bollick had 10 points, three assists and two steals off the bench.
Lavella was the only Tiger in double figures with 13 points. Mallory Tomaschik chipped in nine points, while Kirstin Blass had five assists.