AYER -- There were times during Saturday night's matchup between the Ayer-Shirley and Parker girls' basketball teams that it seemed neither team would claim a victory. A frenetic game that featured 78 turnovers, 93 missed shots and 94 rebounds came down to a three-pointer from a player who had scored just nine points in her previous 10 games. Parker's Avanti Mohan knocked down a pull-up try with 35 seconds left to play to give her team a 43-42 victory.
"We are a very young team and I accept that we are going to mistakes, but the kids play so hard that we find ways to get around them," said Parker head coach Ben Benoit. "Tonight, we wanted to play fast and at times we were a little out of control, but the goal was to be close entering the fourth quarter. We did that and then Avanti hit the big shot and we managed to hold on. It wasn't pretty, but it was a win and that is all that matters."
For Ayer-Shirley and head coach Pete Page, it was an opportunity lost as an 11-point third quarter lead was washed away by a 5-of-46 shooting performance in the second half. "I thought we did a good job of working for good shots, but we just couldn't get anything to fall in the second half," said Page. "You have to give Parker credit, they made the plays late and we didn't. As the game wore on, we wore down and I thought the effort was there, but we were a step late on some plays and that was the difference."
A Kate Belanger jumper off a Katie Williamson feed gave Parker an early 6-5 lead, but Ayer-Shirley responded with eight consecutive points to open up a seven-point lead. Gabby Hebert got things rolling with consecutive jumpers while Anna Peck converted an offensive rebound into a layup and Emily Megan put home a layup of her own to make it 13-6.
Parker broke a five-minute scoreless stretch in style by running off 11 straight points to regain the advantage. Five different players scored during the run, highlighted by a banked in three-pointer by Williamson and capped on a pair of free-throws by Grace Dugan that gave her team a four-point edge at 17-13.
In a first half keyed by bursts of solid offensive play, Ayer-Shirley saved the best for last, holding a 17-6 scoring edge over the final six minutes of the second quarter. Hebert led the way on the inside; scoring five points on a pair of layups and single free-throw while Christina Babcock did the damage outside with a try and 15-foot jumper that gave Ayer-Shirley a 30-23 lead heading into the break.
"In the first half, we did a lot of nice things, especially offensively, in getting to the basket and creating open shots on the perimeter," said Page. "We had some breakdowns defensively, but we shot the ball pretty well (12 of 33) and were able to take a good sized lead into the locker room."
The third quarter was a battle of wills as neither team did a lot well. Ayer-Shirley controlled the flow of play, getting off 24 shots but connecting on only four of them. On the other side, Parker hit 50 percent of their shots, but only could manage eight as they turned it over 16 times in the quarter. Despite turning it over twice every minute, Parker managed to cut the deficit down to six at 38-32 heading to the final quarter.
Parker took advantage of continued poor shooting from Ayer-Shirley to cobble together an 8-2 run to draw even. The catalyst was Allie McNulty, who was all over the place in the second half. The junior forward grabbed 18 rebounds in the second half alone and scored eight points, including a driving layup that tied the game at 40-40 with 1:19 to play.
An Ayer-Shirley possession went by the boards, part of a 1-of-22 shooting final quarter and set up a Parker possession. With the shot clock running down, Mohan delivered, knocking down a three-pointer from the left wing to make it 43-40. With 11 seconds left, Hebert hit a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game. Ayer-Shirley did have a final chance at the buzzer, but a running 14-foot jumper rimmed in and out as Parker held on for the win.
"Allie was outstanding tonight, especially in the second half, when we needed her the most," said Benoit. "Tate Jordan had a strong all-around game. Katie was sick tonight, but she gave me everything she had. We don't have stars, but we are a tight-knit group that plays well together and getting a win on the road against a quality opponent is always nice."
Jordan paced Parker with 11 points, four rebounds and three assists. McNulty was brilliant all-around with eight points, 22 boards, four assists, four steals and three blocked shots. Dugan finished with seven points while Belanger chipped in six points and three blocks.
Hebert led the way for Ayer-Shirley with 13 points, 15 rebounds and four steals. Peck (nine boards and three steals) and Babcock (three steals) finished with eight points each while Megan added seven points, three assists and seven steals.