H.S. GIRLS BASKETBALL: Ali Varano leads Mount Carmel into next round of PIAA playoffs
SUNBURY - A rally needs three things.
1. Players who refuse to lose.
2. A solid crowd behind it.
3. An opportunity to grow.
Mount Carmel had all three ingredients, in equal portions, to stage a 43-33 comeback victory over Montrose in the first round of the PIAA Class AA state playoffs.
It's the third straight season the Red Tornadoes have advanced out of the initial round. They'll play Salisbury Township out of District 11, a 57-56 winner over Imhotep Charter, at a site and time to be determined on Tuesday.
No plans for next week would be possible without Tornadoes' senior Ali Varano, whose determination single-handedly got Mount Carmel back into the game.
After a third quarter in which Mount Carmel scored just four points, Varano took the game over.
"I've said it before, she hates to lose more than she wants to win," Mount Carmel head coach Lisa Varano said. "She sees it slipping away and she starts diving on the ground for a ball that's going out of bounds and that's her mentality. She's not ready to have her season end yet."
Ali Varano had a hand in 13 straight points for the Red Torandoes, including a 3-pointer, her third of the year, a pair of made free throws, an assist to Brianna Lutz, after a steal, an offensive rebound and shot that Jen Bolick came down with and got fouled to make another point, a layup and an assist on a Bolick 3-pointer.
That's seven points, two assists, a steal, a rebound and a lead for Mount Carmel that it fought hard to get and would never relinquish.
The Red Tornadoes' defense also held the Meteors to just three fourth-quarter points, and just one after Bolick's three.
"It was a wide-open look and she shot it with confidence," Lisa Varano said. "That gave us a spark."
That spark wasn't there early for the Red Tornadoes. Mount Carmel found itself down 13-8 after a sluggish first quarter.
The Meteors' Morgan Groover, a 5-foot, 10-inch post player, scored seven points in the first, but like the District 4 championship game, the Red Tornadoes' forwards made the adjustment and held Groover to just one more point the rest of the game.
Montrose's man-to-man defense was also stuck on the Mount Carmel shooters in the early going and 10 of Mount Carmel's 22 first-half points came on fast breaks.
"Montrose was very disciplined and it took us a while to get our engine running," Varano said.
"They played a nice man and helped well so we didn't get good looks in the paint. We weren't being disciplined on offense and that caused us problems in the beginning.
"It's tough when you have a week off like that. I know so did they, but we like to keep playing over and over again. It was a long week of practice and took us a while to get moving."
But when they started, just like the rally, nothing held them back.
"There's just something about this team that it's not always the prettiest," Varano said. "but they've been winning it with defense all year long and it's what got them back in the game."
MONTROSE (33) - Gilhool 3 1-2 8, Russell 0 0-0 0, Snigar 1 0-2 2, Lattimore 3 5-5 11, Lewis 1 0-0 2, Gurn 1 0-0 2, Groover 3 2-3 8. Totals 12 8-12 33.
MOUNT CARMEL (43) - Bolick 2 1-3 6, Lutz 1 0-0 2, Hornung 1 0-3 3, Varano 7 6-6 21, Fiamoncini 1 2-2 4, Stellar 3 0-0 7, Parker 0 0-2 0. Totals 15 9-16 43.
3-point FGs: Gilhool, Bolick, Hornung, Varano, Stellar.