Red Tornadoes defeat Lancers to earn league title

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Loyalsock’s Rhiallie Jessell (22) drives around Mount Carmel’s Emilee Wasilewski in the third quarter on Tuesday at Loyalsock High School.

Myia Miriello might be District 4’s smallest power forward. If Mount Carmel switches her position, the 5-foot-4 senior might be the smallest small forward.

But Miriello constantly comes up big. And the senior might best symbolize why Mount Carmel has become one of District 4’s all-time great girls basketball dynasties.

Miriello helped the Tornadoes dominate the glass last night, recording a double-double. Her 12 points and 10 rebounds sparked a 20-offensive rebound performance as visiting Mount Carmel edged Loyalsock, 53-47 and captured the HAC-III championship. Mount Carmel (17-3, 10-1) won its eighth straight league title, has claimed seven district championships the past eight seasons and it is players like Miriello, who never stop battling, that has fueled this dynamic run.

“We want the ball. We want to get it as much as we can,” Miriello said. “For most of us, it’s our senior years and we want to get as much playing time and as much stuff as we can.”

Mount Carmel checked off one of its first goals by repeatedly earning second, third and fourth-chance scoring opportunities. Loyalsock (14-5, 7-3) played good defense, but the Tornadoes feasted on the offensive glass, repeatedly scoring off putbacks and grabbing all their 20 offensive rebounds in the first three quarters.

No team led by more than eight last night and Loyalsock twice cut the deficit to two in the last 57 seconds. In a game so exciting and so back and forth, that offensive rebounding was the big difference. Miriello led the charge, grabbing six first-quarter rebounds and scoring eight points off putbacks over the final three. All-state guard Nicole Varano dazzled again, scoring 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds while going 11 of 11 at the foul line. Still, take away Miriello and Loyalsock would have tied Mount Carmel for first and denied Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano her 200th career win.

“It’s intimidating but it’s my job and I like it a lot,” Miriello said. “I like being down there. Getting a rebound against a big girl is exciting. It’s hard to believe since I’m 5-4.”

“Sometimes people don’t realize how important she is,” Lisa Varano said. “She is always undersized, but she’s so fundamentally-sound. From her freshman year to senior year, the development has been tremendous. She fights. She goes out there and gets it.”

Despite Mount Carmel’s decided rebounding advantage, Loyalsock came oh so close once again to beating Mount Carmel. The Torandoes have won the last three in this series by 11 combined points. Loyalsock held a 17-14 second-quarter lead before the Tornadoes rattled off nine straight points. The Lancers briefly took a one-point third-quarter lead, but Mount Carmel scored seven straight and never trailed again.

Mount Carmel led 47-39 with 2 minutes, 40 seconds remaining, but Juliana Cruz (nine points) drained a big 3-pointer and Summer McNulty (15 points) converted a 3-point play that made it 47-45. Varano countered by hitting both ends of a 1-and-1. McNulty came back and drained a baseline jumper that again made it a two-point game with 29 seconds remaining but Bailey Little calmly connected on both ends of a 1-and-1. Varano then blocked a shot, hit two more free throws and Mount Carmel celebrated another championship.

“They’re battles against Loyalsock. We can never really put them away,” Lisa Varano said. “A couple times we were out of sorts, but for the most part they stayed disciplined and executed.”

“For the most part we kept our composure,” Loyalsock coach Curtis Jacobson said. “We knew they were going to go on runs and we were prepared for them to go on runs. It’s just one of those things where they’re just tough. They find a way.”

Loyalsock nearly found a way to hand Mount Carmel just its second league loss in the past three seasons. It was a near repeat of last month when the Tornadoes edged Loyalsock, 48-46. The Lancers keep getting close, but have come up a play or two short each time. Last night it essentially came down to rebounding and free throws. While Loyalsock hit 8 of 13 foul shots, it endured a stretch where it went 1 for 6 between the third and fourth quarters when the Mount Carmel lead was either two, three or four points.

Still, this was about Mount Carmel winning, not Loyalsock losing. McNulty, Sam Stopper (7 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists) and Cruz all produced strong second halves and Loyalsock forced Mount Carmel to have to make foul shots to beat it. It was not the ending Loyalsock wanted, but the Lancers can reach the HAC Tournament if they win their final two league games. Rematches with Mount Carmel are possible there and in districts.

“We’re just going to keep working hard and hopefully we see them again. If we see them again that means we’re having a good season and a good run in the playoffs,” Jacobson said. “I’m proud of the girls effort. We competed. We didn’t do all the little things right, but the effort was there and there’s a lot we can take from this.”

Mount Carmel (53)

Nicole Varano 5 11-11 22, Hannah Nolter 1 0-0 3, Bailey Little 2 4-6 8, Emilee Wasilewski 1 0-0 2, Myia Miriello 6 0-0 12, Lauren Ayres 0 0-0 0, Dani Rae Renno 1 0-0 2, Lauren Shedleski 1 1-2 4. Totals 17 16-19 53.

Loyalsock (47)

Summer McNulty 6 3-3 15, Sam Stopper 3 1-4 7, Sarah Van Fleet 3 0-0 6, Rhiallie Jessell 2 2-4 6, Juliana Cruz 3 0-0 9, Charlotte Neylon 1 2-2 4, Sophia Gardner 0 0-0 0, Anna Burdett 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 8-13 47.

Mount Carmel 12 15 12 14–53

Loyalsock 10 13 12 12–47

3-point goals: Mount Carmel 3 (Varano 1, Nolter 1, Shedleski 1), Loyalsock 3 (Cruz 3).

Records: Mount Carmel (17-3, 10-1 HAC-III), Loyalsock (14-5, 7-3).