By Ed Niser
AYER -- Wednesday afternoon marked the last time that the Ayer-Shirley Panthers boys' soccer team would take to their home pitch this season. For the Panthers' five seniors on the roster, the night was bittersweet, as it would be the last time they would get to don the white and red home kits. Seniors Ryan Goodman, Cody Provost, Tyler Gaetz, Jeff Hir and Ryan Coulter were honored before the game with their parents.
"I told the underclassmen today before the game (that) guys like (Goodman) are the reason you go out there and don't have one second off," said Ayer-Shirley boys' soccer coach Mike Donahue. "Go the full 80 minutes, and give the seniors something to send them home with."
Connor Begun chipped in two goals and was the difference-maker in Ayer-Shirley's 3-0 shutout of Narragansett. The game was suspended due to darkness with 17 minutes left to go in the second half. MIAA-sanctioned high school soccer matches can shorten the halfs at the discretion of the officials if the field is not illuminated with artificial lighting. The chance of the game being completed in the coming days is unlikely as it is a one-hour drive from Baldwinville, where Narragansett is located.
More likely than not, the score will be upheld as a final of 3-0.
"Today we played for large stretches exactly the way we practiced. We did well today. I was happy for the kids today that their hard work actually translated into a win," said Donahue.
The Panthers defense played lights out, not allowing the Warriors to get more than six shots on goal. Senior goalkeeper Goodman made six saves in the match.
Ayer-Shirley's defense played tenaciously, anchored by usual standouts Michael Davis and Coulter.
The Panthers knocked on the goal-line door eight times in the first half, with only one goal to show for it. Brian Bechera knocked in the Panthers' first goal of the afternoon off a beautiful set-piece from Cody Provost in the 43rd minute to give Ayer-Shirley a 1-0 advantage.
"I think we dominated play," said Donahue. "They had three chances in the first half on the counter attack. We didn't allow them to develop any sort of offensive attack."
Ayer-Shirley continued to turn up the pressure on the Warriors with quick, crisp passes and great touches on the ball. Begun knocked home his 14th and 15th goals of the season. The first goal of the match for Begun was a special one for his teammate Coulter.
Coulter joined the team as a basketball player. On Wednesday, he recorded the first assist of his career in the 55th minute. Coulter set up Begun and he buried it in the mesh to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead. Begun was not finished. He tacked on another gravy goal in the 57th minute on an unassisted breakaway to round out the final tally of 3-0.
"We played the way we practiced today. We got to work our ball-control system into the gameplan," said Donahue. "Even when they attacked, we played the ball on the ground and worked it out of the back. We played great defense by holding onto the ball."
Ayer-Shirley has two more matches on the regular season slate, both on the road, at Parker Essential Charter School and Murdock. Monday's game with the Blue Devils is the last match of the year for the Panthers. Ayer-Shirley failed to make the postseason with their current overall record of 3-9-1, and a Mid Wach D mark of 3-5-1.