AYER -- In a game that at best could be called sloppy and a worst could be deemed unwatchable, the Ayer-Shirley girls' basketball team found themselves exactly where they wanted to be heading into the fourth quarter.
The Lady Panthers wore down Oakmont, closing the game with the best five minutes of action on the night, using a 14-2 run to pick up a 50-35 victory in the semifinals of the Pete Trainor Memorial Christmas Tournament.
"We played this game at the pace we wanted with a lot of quick shots, and while it led to a lot of turnovers, I felt we were the fresher team in the fourth quarter and that was the difference," said Ayer-Shirley coach Pete Page. "Our goal is to keep it close for the first three quarters and then pull away in the fourth and that is what happened tonight. It might not look pretty, but it has been effective in the early part of the season."
Over the first eight minutes of the game, neither team could get into much of a rhythm offensively, as they combined for 21 first-quarter turnovers. Olivia Warlia kept the Lady Panthers within striking distance, scoring four points and adding an assist. On the other side, the Lady Spartans used a balanced attack, as five different players scored, including Sarrah Morse, whose eight-foot jumper brought her team to a 10-9 advantage.
Behind a 7-1 run midway through the second quarter, Ayer-Shirley took their largest lead of the opening half. Warlia connected on a three-pointer off an Emily Megan feed before converting an offensive rebound into a layup. Emily Goodman added a mid-range jumper off a Gabby Hebert look to make it an 18-13 game before the Lady Panthers settled for a 20-18 lead after a half of play.
In the third quarter, Ayer-Shirley added to their lead despite hitting just three of their 17 shots and turning the ball over nine times. Anna Peck was the catalyst, scoring seven points on a pair of layups and two free throws while adding an assist as the Lady Panthers held a three-point edge with eight minutes to play.
Oakmont did just enough to hang around, drawing to within three at 36-33 when Ray Quaye made a great pass to Meaghan Delorey for a layup. Just when it seemed the game could go either way, Ayer-Shirley put together the best stretch of basketball on the night and iced the game by scoring 14 of the contest's last 16 points.
Babcock came up big when it mattered the most, coming off the bench to score six points while Warlia continued her solid play with her second trey of the game. Peck added a bucket and helped during the game's deciding run as a three-point game turned into a 15-point Lady Panthers win, their fourth straight to start the season.
"Defensively, I thought we did a lot of good things, especially in jumping the passing lanes and forcing turnovers," said Page. "Our scoring was balanced as we put three players in double-digits, which was nice. Anna had a great all-around game, Olivia's shooting was solid all night and we got a lift from Tina tonight. I thought everything came together in the fourth quarter, especially in the last five minutes, and it is nice to get a win and advance to a final in any tournament."
Peck (seven rebounds, three assists and four steals) and Babcock (five steals) paced Ayer-Shirley with 13 points apiece. Warlia finished the night with 12 points, five boards and three steals. Hebert chipped in eight points, nine rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots while Megan contributed four boards, six assists and five steals.
Amanda Wood led the Lady Spartans with 10 points and seven steals. Quaye added seven points, five boards, four assists and three steals. Delorey chipped in six points, five rebounds and three steals while Kayla Costa scored five points, grabbed 11 boards and handed out three assists.