AYER -- Ayer-Shirley senior Tyler Gaetz paved the way for the Panthers, dropping 23 points in their 81-55 romp over West Boylston. Junior captain Ryan Richard collected a double-double with his 18-points and 12-rebounds. On the defensive side of the floor, the Panthers dished out a steady dose of backcourt pressure, which led to West Boylston turnovers.
Ayer-Shirley sprinted out of the gates on a 7-0 run and never looked back. Panthers' head coach Justin Carlson felt that the early run was pivotal to his team's success.
"We jumped out to a 7-0 run right off the bat," said Carlson. "The big thing coming in was to put pressure on their guards. We thought if we could get some pressure, we could get some turnovers and that lead to early baskets."
Ayer-Shirley's 7-0 run was sparked by baskets from Ryan Goodman, Zak Walker (nine points) and Gaetz. Gaetz sent a three-point projectile through the cylinder with 6:30 remaining in the first quarter to highlight the Panthers' opening run.
West Boylston called a timeout following the three-point basket by Gaetz with the hope that it would cool down the smooth-stroking Panthers. Twelve seconds later, Steven Gould collected a pass from Mike Pace, stutter-stepped hard to his left, and flushed a three-pointer of his own from the left elbow to halt the Panthers' run.
Ayer-Shirley finished the quarter the way they started, with another 7-0 run. The late spurt featured back-to-back baskets by Richard. The Panthers
Ryan Coulter unleashed arguably the top non-scoring play of the game less than a minute into the second quarter with a behind-the-back pass to a cutting Gaetz on the baseline to give the Panthers' their largest lead of the first half at 29-16.
Ayer-Shirley's offense went into a lull for five minutes, where nothing would drop for them, and West Boylston's Max O'Day made the most of his opportunities.
West Boylston managed to pull within eight, following three straight baskets by O'Day, featuring a transition three-pointer to cut the Panthers' lead to 33-25 with 3:38 remaining in the half.
Ayer-Shirley doubled their lead in the final 1:30 of the second quarter with a 10-2 outburst to close the half. The Panthers took a 43-27 lead into the locker room and never looked back.
On the first play of the third quarter, Coulter soared through the air and swatted the ball with authority out of the hands of Tyler Peters, sending the Ayer-Shirley student section into a frenzy.
Coulter finished the game with two blocks and four points. West Boylston outscored the Panthers in the third quarter 17-11, but in the fourth it was all Ayer-Shirley. The Panthers were led in the fourth quarter by Richard and Gaetz. Ayer-Shirley's bench put the game away and sealed the win for the Panthers.
Turnovers can be a costly problem for many teams, but the Panthers were able to limit their turnovers to just six. All six Panthers' turnovers came in the first half. West Boylston coughed up possession 13 times, and the Panthers made them pay for their miscues.
"Limiting turnovers was a point of emphasis coming in," said Carlson. "If you win the turnover battle, you put yourself in a good position to win ball games."
Sophomore Chris Patano contributed eight points in his first home varsity start, with all of his points coming from the free-throw line. West Boylston was led by Peters with 18 points. Friday night's win is the largest margin of victory by the Panthers' this season.
Ayer-Shirley now turns their attention to a primetime game with Mid-Wach D foe Bromfield Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in Harvard.
Follow Ed Niser on Twitter @EdNiser.