BOYLSTON -- Ayer-Shirley turned in an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter, but they just could not get over the hump as they fell to Tahanto on the road, 51-47. The Panthers were led in scoring by senior forward Tyler Gaetz with 19 points, two rebounds and a pair of steals.
"We had some opportunities at the end to make one last run," said Ayer-Shirley head coach Justin Carlson. "They got two offensive rebounds, and it was kind of devastating to us after coming all the way back."
Ayer-Shirley was able to bring the game within two after a three-point missile from Gaetz in transition with 26.4 seconds remaining. Ayer-Shirley was forced to foul. Sam Hergert (game-high 23-points, four rebounds) missed the free-throw, but the Panthers were unable to box out and secure the rebound.
Neither team could establish a rhythm from the field in the first quarter, as the two sides traded baskets for much of the early going. The Stags took the lead after Hergert cut to the basket for a layup with 4:01 left in the quarter. Ayer-Shirley trailed by two late in the quarter after an eight-foot pull-up jumper by Dylan Greenwald that put the Stags up 10-8 with under a minute left.
Ayer-Shirley worked the clock for the final shot, and they made the most of it. Gaetz received an outlet pass from Zak Walker and nailed a deep three-point fade-away floater as the horn sounded on the quarter to give the Panthers an 11-10 lead.
The second quarter is where the momentum started to build for the Stags. Hergert set up shop at the three-point arc and rattled home a trio of consecutive three-point bombs as the Stags galloped out to a 21-16 lead with 4:02 remaining in the half.
Ryan Coulter put an end to the Stags 9-0 run with a stellar display of hustle and athleticism. Coulter leaped through the lane and corralled a missed shot and put it back in off the window to bring the Panthers within three, 21-18.
"The open three-pointers in the second quarter really killed us," said Carlson. "After that point, they continued to make a run on us until really the last three minutes."
Tahanto would score on their ensuing possession off a Greenwald feed to Herbert. Herbert drove the lane hard and earned three points the old-fashioned way with the field goal and free-throw with 1:43 left in the second quarter to push the Stags lead back out to six, 24-18. Ayer-Shirley trailed the Stags at the half, 26-21.
The Panthers tried to break even with the Stags midway through the third quarter with three-point baskets by Goodman and Gaetz. Gaetz's three pointers cut the Stags' lead to four with 3:24 remaining in the quarter, 37-33. Patano was fouled on the next Panthers possession and he knocked down a pair from the charity stripe to bring Ayer-Shirley within two. The Stags closed the quarter on a 6-0 run with a pair of baskets from Hergert.
Tahanto started to pull away in the fourth quarter, leading by as much as 12 with 4:30 minutes remaining following a three-point strike by Hergert from Kyle McCubrey to make it 49-37. Ayer-Shirley showed resiliency and toughness in the final half of the final quarter. The Panthers mounted an 11-0 run with clutch three-pointers from Gaetz and Goodman, but the inability to rebound is what did the Panthers in. Ryan Richard contributed a solid 12 points down low in the second half.
The Panthers return home tonight to face Littleton at 7:30 p.m. as the back end of a girls/boys' hoops doubleheader. Ayer-Shirley lost the first meeting on the road, 77-41.
Carlson believes if anyone can beat the Tigers in the Mid-Wach D League, it's his Panthers. "We feel that if someone can beat Littleton in our league, we're that person. If you turn the ball over against them, they make you pay for it."