COAL TOWNSHIP - When Lisa Varano took over as head girls' basketball coach at Mount Carmel Area in January 2010, she never imagined that the program would win three straight District 4 Class AA championships.

However, Varano acknowledged after Saturday night's 66-43 thrashing of rival Southern Columbia at Shamokin Area High School, that it has been accomplished by one thing - dedication.

That dedication to the program and some scrappy play were instrumental as the Red Tornadoes captured the "3-Peat," using tenacious defense and an opportunistic offense in the second half to keep the Tigers at bay.

"We've been working hard on defense all year long and improving every game" Lisa Varano said. "It was a great defensive effort by all the girls. Southern's a great team and they have the ability to score a lot of points. That's a credit to the girls."

Mount Carmel Area, which never got behind to Southern Columbia, used the tandem of senior Christina Perles (21 points) and junior Ana Raybuck (15 points), to stifle the Tigers.

Perles, who got into foul trouble midway through the second quarter, had a balanced scoring effort with 11 in the first half and 10 in the second.

"They both hit some big shots," said Lisa Varano of Perles and Raybuck's performance. "They have been consistent all year long and they showed great leadership out on the court."

And when Perles went to the bench with two fouls in the second quarter, Southern Columbia cut what was an 11-point lead down to four as the Tornadoes' foul troubles sent the Tigers to free throw line. Southern converted 9-of-10 attempts and took control of the momentum.

Senior Kayla Lavella (13 points) drained back-to-back free throws

with 44.1 seconds left in the first half to make it 32-28.

"We came out really hard and sometimes it's hard to maintain that intensity for 32 minutes," Lisa Varano said. "We let up a little bit and (Southern Columbia) got it close, but the girls didn't allow them to get it any closer."

And with Perles back in the game, she showed terrific poise driving the baseline and converting a layup. Mount Carmel Area junior Ali Varano followed with a steal and bucket with 8.9 ticks to take the wind out Southern's sails to end the half and eight-point margin.

"We needed to close it out," Perles said. "We knew it wasn't over. We knew they were catching up, but we wanted it more."

The toughest eight minutes for the Tigers occurred in the third quarter as they managed four points via the free throw line as the Mount Carmel Area defense tightened.

Southern missed all eight shots from the field and the Tornadoes made the most of dry spell converting in transition and got great ball movement.

"I'm very proud of this basketball team," Southern Columbia coach Kevin Collins said. "We have a thousand blood, sweat and tear-hours in this program. I just hope we continue to move forward."

Mount Carmel Area took control of the game by upping its lead to 17 points with three minutes, 43 seconds left in the third quarter. Raybuck buried a 15-footer from the elbow and one could sense the the Tornado surge.

In the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, Raybuck couldn't miss as she scored six points and every time Southern looked for a spark, the Tornadoes had an answer as they pulled away.

"We missed a few fast break layups early but we saw early that we were able to push the ball up the court," Lisa Varano said. "Once we got into that, we kept that momentum going.

When asked about the third straight district championship, Lisa Varano had but three words - "It feels great."

Game Summary

SOUTHERN COLUMBIA (43) - Clark 2 3-4 7, Lavella 3 4-4 13, Blass 1 4-4 6, Tomaschick 3 2-3 9, Levan 0 2-2 2, Lyash 0 0-0 0, Gilroy 1 0-1 2, Shutt 2 0-1 4, Daubert 0 0-2 0, Meg. Chaundry 0 0-0 0, Allen 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 15-21 43.

MOUNT CARMEL (66) - Dunkel 0 0-1 0, Bolick 4 1-2 10, Hornung 3 0-0 8, Winhofer 0 0-0 0, Varano 2 6-9 10, Perles 8 5-7 21, Hood 0 2-2 2, Montgomery 0 0-0 0, Klinger 0 0-0 0, Stellar 0 0-0 0, Raybuck 7 0-1 15, Parker 0 0-0 0. Totals 24 14-22 66.

3-point FGs: Lavella 3, Tomaschick, Bolick, Hornung 2, Raybuck.