MCA’s Varano too much for Hughesville girls

MILTON — As Mount Carmel put the finishing touches on another district championship win, Hughesville coach Craig Weaver Sr. emptied his bench. The result was not what Hughesville wanted, but it has been one super ride and Weaver made sure everyone experienced the championship atmosphere that they helped create.

Mount Carmel won another championship. Hughesville continued raising its standard.

Nicole Varano scored 23 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as Mount Carmel broke things open in the second half and captured another District 4 Class AAA championship Saturday at Milton, defeating Hughesville, 52-31. The Torandoes (22-4) enhanced their district dynasty, winning their third straight championship and seventh in eight years. Even in defeat, Hughesville (16-8) still made its mark, playing in its second consecutive district final after no Spartan team had ever done so before last year.

“What they’ve done for the program is they’ve shown the younger girls that with hard work and commitment and dedication to the sport it’s going to get you a long way,” Weaver said. “I told them there are a lot of teams that aren’t playing right now and you’re still playing. That speaks very well of them. It speaks of their character and what they’ve brought to this program, all the girls.”

Hughesville advances to the state tournament again and will meet District 2 runner-up Nanticoke next weekend while Mount Carmel faces District 11 runner-up Notre Dame-Green Pond. The Spartans have come so far the last few seasons and last night’s loss does not diminish that climb. This was a program that went 10 years without a playoff win before last season. Prior to 2016, Hughesville went nine seasons without a playoff appearance.

Now the Spartans have become one of the district’s best teams. Someday Hughesville will likely win a district championship and this group will have laid the foundation that serves as a springboard.

“One game, even though it’s for the district title, does not dampen what these girls have done this year,” Weaver said. “They’ve worked hard, really hard. It’s a pleasure to be a part of that.”

Hughesville did not play a bad game, but when playing a team as strong as Mount Carmel, especially at playoff time it takes a seemingly perfect performance to win. The Torandoes, featuring five senior starters, would not be denied in their last title game, leading for all but a few seconds early in the game. Hughesville hung tough for a half and was down 29-22 at halftime, but Varano erupted in the third quarter, scoring 13 points as the Torandoes took a 19-point lead which was never threatened.

“It’s extremely emotional,” said Varano, who is closing in on 1,800 career points. “For the five seniors on the court it does mean something special. We started out as freshmen together and now we’re ending with a district championship together.”

Hughesville suffered a devastating blow late in the second quarter when Jade Cordrey appeared to suffer a serious knee injury. Cordrey, who scored 36 points in two playoff wins, was locked in, having just scored eight points in two minutes as Hughesville cut a 12-point deficit to 29-22. The sophomore guard broke free as the outlet receiver on an inbounds pass, but had to stop when 6-foot center Dani Rae Renno cut off her path to the basket. When Cordrey planted, her knee appeared to buckle and the hard-working sophomore was on crutches coming out of halftime.

Without Cordrey, and with starters Kendra Smith and Jayden Leighow in foul trouble, times turned desperate for Hughesville. Throw in Mount Carmel’s stifling defense and it was too much to overcome. Alisha McKinley (10 points, five rebounds) hit a jumper and Emily Akers a free throw open the fourth quarter and make it 46-30, but Varano answered and Mount Carmel started sealing another championship.

“We had a nice run going and it deflates you,” Weaver said. “The girls knew when she went down that it wasn’t good. You can say all you want and you can try and pump them up. I told the girls we’re thinking about her, but they knew and it kind of took the air out of us. We tried to regroup and the girls that came in were ninth graders and I’m very proud of them.”

The game was tied midway through the first quarter, but Mount Carmel went on a 7-0 run and took a 14-7 lead. Hughesville cut the deficit to three later in the first and four in the second, but could pull no closer. The Torandoes aggressively attacked the basket and went 15 of 16 from the foul line in the first half. Renno (three blocks) again was a difference-maker off the bench, while Bailey Little, Myia Miriello and Hannah Nolter combined for 14 rebounds.

Mount Carmel also grabbed 10 first-half offensive rebounds, showing the toughness and tenacity that has made it the district’s gold standard for girls programs.

“When we stepped out on the court tonight, every time we looked at each other we said, ‘last time.’ It spoke to all of us and we left everything out on the court,” Varano said. “Myia and I were talking and saying that I don’t know if it will truly hit us until it’s all over. When that happens we can look back and say, ‘Wow! Look at what we did.'”

Hughesville (31)

Emily Akers 1 1-2 3, Jayden Leighow 0 1-2 1, Alisha McKinley 4 2-3 10, Kendra Smith 3 0-0 8, Jade Cordrey 3 1-1 8, Alex Snyder 0 0-0 , Cierra Getz 0 0-0 0, Lauren Henry 0 1-2 1, Olivia Strothers 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 6-10 31.

Mount Carmel (52)

Nicole Varano 6 10-10 23, Hannah Nolter 1 4-6 7, Emilee Wasilewski 1 0-0 2, Bailey Little 1 2-2 4, Myia Miriello 1 0-0 2, Dani Rae Renno 2 3-6 7, Lauren Shedleski 1 2-2 5, Caroline Fletcher 1 0-0 2. Totals 14 21-27 52.

Mount Carmel 16 13 17 6–52

Hughesville 11 11 5 4–31

3-point goals: Mount Carmel 3 (Varano 1, Nolter 1, Shedleski 1), Hughesville 3 (Smith 2, Cordrey 1).

Records: Mount Carmel (22-4), Hughesville (16-9).