HAMBURG — How ironic was it that the further Friday's game slipped from the Mount Carmel girls' reach, the more Lisa Varano appreciated what she was seeing?

The Red Tornadoes' third state quarterfinal in as many years unfolded like a horror movie — from an offense thwarted at seemingly every turn to an opponent that could do little wrong — and ended in a 47-21 loss to Lancaster Catholic, their first loss of more than seven points since February 2021.

"That's the game of basketball. The ball doesn't go in, you might miss a defensive stop ... but what was nice to watch as coaches was the heart and fight that they played with," Varano said. "You can't coach that. You can get a lot of shots up and try to fix that, but you can't coach that (heart). I'm proud that they never quit. There was no quit in them tonight."

Mount Carmel, which had won 18 consecutive games to reach the Class 3A Elite Eight, was frustrated throughout by the District 3 champion Crusaders. They took away the entry pass to Red Tornadoes senior post Alyssa Reisinger; they quickly closed out on 3-point shooters; and they never looked back after taking a 6-5 lead.

In other words, Lancaster Catholic did what Mount Carmel had done to so many on the way to championships in Division III of the Heartland Athletic Conference, the HAC Tournament and the District 4 Class 3A playoffs.

"It really just wasn't our night. There's not really another way to describe it," said Red Tornadoes senior Jenna Pizzoli. "They gave it there best shot, and so did we, and it just wasn't our night. We put everything had into it."

Mount Carmel finished 27-3, a high-water mark for wins matched two other times. The senior class went 90-20 with three district titles and the 2020-21 Class 2A state championship.

"I can't even express how thankful I am and how ... much I love this team," said Reisinger, who came of age as sophomore in the 2021 state final. "This really is my family, it's my home, and I don't know how I'm going to function without it."

Reisinger was at the heart of Lancaster Catholic's defensive focus. After scoring a game-high 19 points, including nine in the third quarter, of a second-round win over West Catholic, the Crusaders did whatever they could to deny her the ball. They batted the ball beyond her grasp, stole passes to the post or watched the ball sail high and out of bounds. Reisinger was limited to eight points on 1-for-4 shooting from the field.

"We just really executed our game plan extremely well, probably one of the best we've done all year," said Rylee Kraft, a 6-foot junior who had four steals. "We really had been focusing on that entry pass and trying to get that down, and we really executed well.

"Defense was going to be key for us, and we did it well."

Mount Carmel shot just 1-for-11 in the first quarter, persuaded to take jump shots and 3-pointers (0-of-5 in the period) by the Crusaders (26-3).

"They had a great defense plan," Reisinger said. "They did jump the passes to the inside post very well, and credit to them for that. They probably based their whole game plan around that, and they're a great defensive team. Obviously that's a little frustrating when you can't get the inside game going.

"I think they're probably the best defensive team we've had on the inside."

Lancaster's 12-6 lead after one quarter grew to 18-7 midway through the second. Pizzoli made a free throw early in the period, but the Red Tornadoes were scoreless until she drove hard to the hoop for a bucket at the 1:12 mark. Autumn Lipson answered with a 3-pointer on the other end, and the Crusaders led 23-9 at halftime. Mount Carmel shot 2-for-18 before the break.

"Some of (the shots) were just right there, just didn't fall, and if we get a couple of those early it's a little bit of a different game ... you know, who knows?" said Varano. "We just never got the momentum."

The opening sequence of the third quarter seemed to seal the Red Tornadoes' fate. After working the ball patiently for the best look and coming up empty so often in the first half, they wanted to be more aggressive on offense. Pizzoli curled off a screen near the left elbow for a catch-and-shoot just inside the top of the key, and Kraft stepped up for a block. Kraft picked up the loose ball, raced down the court and passed to Mary Bolesky for a tough reverse-layup that dropped to make it a 16-point game.

"We were focused on chasing over the screens because we figured (Pizzoli) would shoot it," Kraft said. "And when we got the block and got out in transition, yeah, transition is really big for us."

"It is a little deflating," Varano added. "We talked at the half, looking at the scoreboard — still one possession at a time — you don't want to rush possessions but did we did need to get more shot attempts, for sure. It was unfortunate that it started like that."

Mount Carmel senior Rachel Witkoski hit her team's only 3-pointer to make it 29-12 at 5:06 of the third. Kraft immediately answered the trey, then scored a bucket and assisted Bolesky in transition to push the lead to 36-12.

Bolesky, one of the Crusaders' five junior starters, finished with a game-high 14 points, while Kraft added 12 points, seven boards, five steals and four assists. They will play District 2 champion Dunmore (25-3) in Monday's semifinals.

"It was like one of those things that not everything goes your way when you're playing," said Pizzoli. "Stuff like that happens all the time, and I knew we just needed to get back and keep getting after it. We just didn't want to give up. We were going to keep fighting until the end."

The margin grew as wide as 28 on a Bolesky 3-pointer with five minutes to play. Mount Carmel finished 5-of-39 from the floor.

"I think you have to tip your hat to them," Varano said. "Good defensive teams force good offensive teams into mistakes. So I don't think it was as much our girls not executing as it was they played really good defense. You've got to give them that credit."


PIAA CLASS 3A GIRLS BASKETBALL

QUARTERFINAL

At Hamburg H.S.

LANCASTER CATHOLIC 47, MOUNT CARMEL 21

Lancaster Catholic (26-3) 47

Rylee Kraft 5 1-3 12, Lily Lehman 1 0-0 2, Mary Bolesky 5 3-4 14, Carleigh Anderson 2 2-2 6, Autumn Lipson 2 0-0 6, Stella Higgins 1 3-5 5, Morgan Gaylord 0 2-2 2. Totals 16 11-16 47.

3-point goals: Lipson 2, Bolesky, Kraft.

Did not score: Molly Wolownik, Gemma Navickas, Mariana DeJesus, Hailey Cox, Ava Swartz.

Mount Carmel (27-3) 21

Jenna Pizzoli 2 2-4 6, Rachel Witkoski 1 2-4 5, Katie Witkoski 1 0-2 2, Alyssa Reisinger 1 6-7 8. Totals 5 10-17 21.

3-point goals: R. Witkoski.

Did not score: Ava Chapman, Abby Klokis, Sydney Reed, Karli Berkoski, Sarah Sosky, AnaGrace Renno, Kamryn Kotzo.

Score by quarters

Lancaster Catholic;12;11;14;10 — 47

Mount Carmel;6;3;5;7 — 21

Trending Video