Red Tornadoes earn win over Loyalsock girls.

By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | March 1, 2018

 

MILTON — As time expired, Mount Carmel players jumped off the bench and swarmed their teammates near midcourt. Together they celebrated another proud moment for a program that rattles those off like they are coming from an assembly line.

And that is how Mount Carmel reached another district championship. Together, the Tornadoes played one of their best games against one of their toughest opponents and clinched a ninth straight state tournament berth. Nicole Varano scored 20 points, Danni Rae Renno shined off the bench and Mount Carmel dominated the game's final 12 minutes Wednesday at Milton as it defeated Heartland Conference champion Loyalsock, 47-30 in the District 4 Class AAA semifinals. The Tornadoes (21-4), who featured five senior starters, will play for their seventh district championship in eight seasons when they face Hughesville Saturday, back at Milton.

Loyalsock (20-6) can still reach states for a second straight year if it beats Bloomsburg in the third-place game Saturday at Montoursville.

"I'm just so happy for them. They're great kids. They've been with the program all these years and I have nothing but great things to say about them," Mount Carmel coach Lisa Varano said. "For them to get another shot at a district championship is great. We got contributions everywhere. They all played well and they all did what they needed to do."

Mount Carmel completed a three-game sweep of Loyalsock and is the only team that has beaten the Lancers in their last 13 games, doing so twice. Those two previous games were decided by eight combined points and it looked like this would be a similar nailbiter as the district heavyweights fought to a 25-25 tie midway through the third quarter. Varano took over from there on her way to a double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Renno changed everything with her defense and rebounding.

The Torandoes closed the third on a 9-1 run, pushed the lead to 14 early in the fourth and never led by less than 12 again. It was a bitter pill for Loyalsock to follow after it captured the HAC championship and surged down the stretch despite losing two outstanding players to season-ending injuries.

"To say we're disappointed is an understatement," Loyalsock coach Curtis Jacobson said. "We have a very disappointed group in there and it's not because we lost to Mount Carmel, it's because we didn't win the district title and that's our goal. Our goal wasn't to beat Mount Carmel tonight. Our goal was to take one more step toward a district title."

Loyalsock did some good things and forced 20 turnovers, but also struggled mightily making just 11 of 52 shots. Summer McNulty scored 10 points, Juliana Cruz had a hand in eight straight during a second-quarter surge when Loyalsock briefly took two leads and Sarah Van Fleet grabbed 10 rebounds. Van Fleet picked up her third foul after tying the game at 25 on a jumper and it proved a huge blow. The hard-working junior was controlling the boards and Loyalsock went cold without her on the court.

Loyalsock was in this position last year when it defeated Wellsboro in the third-place game, earned a state tournament berth and took powerhouse York Catholic to the final seconds. The Lancers have shown how good they are throughout this season so they could be a dangerous team if they qualify again.

"If we pout or feel bad for ourselves our season is going to be over Saturday," Jacobson said. "We reminded them about last year and we still have a group that is able to do that, it's just a matter of getting hungry and working harder than we have all year starting (Friday)."

Varano likely will earn all-state honors again and was outstanding as usual. Still, Loyalsock contained her throughout the game's first 20 minutes. It was a freshman who might have made the biggest impact for a senior-laden team. Renno was sensational off the bench, scoring 10 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking five shots.

The 6-foot freshman has grown stronger throughout the season and showed how dangerous she can on a big stage last night, constantly disrupting Loyalsock's offense. While Loyalsock did experience a cold shooting performance, Renno was a big reason its percentage was so low. She not only blocked five shots, but altered many more and made Loyalsock think twice about driving into the lane. Take away Renno and this game likely would have come down to the final possession like the previous two had.

"Danni came up huge. She was so disruptive in there," Lisa Varano said. "She's a freshman and that's a lot of pressure on her. For her to come in and play like that, she had a huge game. She was a difference-maker."