TURBOTVILLE-Three 1,000-point scorers have graduated the last two years. A bull's-eye remains on its collective back, too, but Mount Carmel once again is perched in its usual spot.
The Tornadoes once again are HAC-II's team to beat.
Ali Varano scored 20 points and ignited a tremendous defensive performance Saturday at Warrior Run as Mount Carmel defeated the Defenders, 47-37 and recorded its second big HAC-II road win this week. The four-time defending league champions and three-time defending District 4 Class AA champions improved to 5-0 in the HAC-II and are the league's only unbeaten team. They also have beaten all but one title contender in the first half cycle with Montoursville up next week.
"The girls take a lot of pride in the program and they want to be just as good as the team from last year," Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano said. "They always want to improve on that and you can't coach that. When they have that desire you're lucky as a coach."
Mount Carmel's success, however, has never been about luck. The Tornadoes have become a District 4 dynasty through relentless work and nothing has changed this season. Mount Carmel (9-2, 5-0) might not have the firepower it has had the last three seasons, but it plays defense as well as anyone in District 4 and forces good teams into doing bad things.
Warrior Run (8-2, 3-2) led 24-21 with two minutes remaining in the second quarter but Mount Carmel then started dominating. The Tornadoes forced a lot of turnovers, held the Defenders to three third-quarter points and allowed just two field goals over the next 13 minutes. By the time, Warrior Run connected on its second second-half field goal, Mount Carmel led 44-30 with just two minutes remaining.
"Warrior Run is a really nice team. They are really well-coached," Lisa Varano said. "We know they have a lot in them and the girls hung around that first half and the second half they knew they could play with them and that gave them some confidence."
Ali Varano sparked the turnaround and changed the game's complexion with her defense. The senior 1,000-point scorer delivered 20 points, eight rebounds and seven steals. When Mount Carmel needed a first-half lift, Varano provided it. The Tornadoes ended the half on a 9-1 run and Varano had 15 points, 7 rebounds and 5 steals by halftime.
Varano is arguably the fastest player in District 4 and her ability to force turnovers ignited the running game that makes Mount Carmel so dangerous. The Tornadoes forced five third-quarter turnovers, allowed just one field goal and opened a 12-point lead entering the fourth.
"When you turnover the ball to Varano nobody is going to catch her," Warrior Run coach Jon Weaver. "You turn the ball over they can hurt you. That's why they win. they play hard and they're smart. They set you up. They sit back like they're not paying attention and you make that pass and boom, they're gone."
Warrior Run lost its second straight following an 8-0 start. The Defenders played outstanding for much of the first half while building that 24-21 lead. Despite 1,000-point scorer Steph Shamburg being in foul trouble, Warrior Run moved the ball well, shot well and displayed some nice inside-outside scoring punch.
That all changed, though, in the third quarter and the Defenders never rediscovered rhythm. The Defenders often tried forcing the ball inside to Shamburg and Mount Carmel made it pay.
"When we took care of the ball I thought our offense looked pretty darn good," Weaver said. "But then we got sloppy with it and were making poor passes and forcing things when we didn't have to."
Still, the Defenders know they can clean up those things. Shamburg and second-leading scorer Abby Fisher spent most of the game in foul trouble, but Warrior Run still had its chances. A team that has a nice blend of size, speed, experience and youth bursting with potential has plenty of room to improve. The Defenders know they did not lose anything long-term last night.
Fisher continued her breakout season, scoring 10 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Shamburg had eight points and six rebounds while Laura Bastian added eight points. Freshman Madi Welliver grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots while battling through illness and cramps.
"We're all about even (in the HAC-II)," Weaver said. "We played hard tonight, we just went on that dry spell. To beat them you have to slow the game down. You cannot get into the running game. At times we did and that's where they went on their runs."
MOUNT CARMEL (47)
Ali Varano 8 4-10 20, Paige Hornung 0 0-0 0, Isabella Stellar 4 2-7 11, Jennifer Bolick 2 0-4 4, Brianna Lutz 1 0-0 2, Maura Fiamonicini 2 1-4 6, Allison Parker 1 0-1 2, Jordan Winhofer 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 7-26 47.
WARRIOR RUN (37)
Steph Shamburg 2 4-6 8, Abby Fisher 4 2-3 10, Emily Webb 1 0-0 2, Laura Bastian 4 0-2 8, Chloe Eisenhuth 2 1-4 5, Madi Welliver 2 0-0 4, McKenzie Hays 0 0-0 0, Maddie Beyer 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 7-15 37.
Mount Carmel10 19 11 7-47
Warrior Run11 14 3 9-37
3-pointers: Mount Carmel 2 (Stellar, Fiamoncini).
Records: Mount Carmel 9-2, 5-0 HAC-II. Warrior Run 8-2, 3-2.
JV Score: Mount Carmel 29-27.