AYER -- Littleton has been tested their last couple times out on the floor in the Mid-Wach D. First, it was a loss to Bromfield and then Ayer-Shirley sent them home defeated again. Senior Gabby Hebert turned in another monster performance for the Panthers with a double-double, leading all players in scoring with 21 points and 14 rebounds. On the defensive side of the ball, Hebert secured a steal and three blocks.
Hebert put on an absolute clinic on the offensive and defensive side of the glass to lead Ayer-Shirley past Littleton, 53-47.
"I think Littleton is one of the best teams in our league," said Ayer-Shirley head coach Pete Page. "We went to their place early in the year. It was one-point game going into the fourth quarter and they put 20 on us. Surprisingly, it was a one-point game again in the fourth at home, and we were able to get them at the end."
The first quarter was about as even as you could get in terms of shooting. Ayer-Shirley and Littleton had a hard time getting shots to fall, due to stellar defensive pressure. Ayer-Shirley trailed in the early stages of the first quarter, but was able to claim the lead halfway through. Anna Peck (eight points, eight rebounds) found a cutting Tina Babcock (10 points) under the rim for a pull-up jumper from inside the elbow to give the Panthers a 6-3 lead with 4:28 left in the quarter. Littleton standout guard Erin Dorey brought Littleton within two after a spin-move finish on a layup with 40 seconds remaining in the first to make it 12-10 after one.
Neither team could find the momentum to pull away in the second quarter as the Panthers largest lead of the night continued to hover at five. Ayer-Shirley led by five at three different occasions in the second quarter alone. Hebert was a menace on the boards in the second quarter with five boards and six points. Dorey brought the Tigers to within one after her sprinting layup with 2:30 left in the half to make the score 21-20. Ayer-Shirley closed the quarter on a 4-0 run, with a pair of free-throws by Hebert to head to the locker room up 25-20.
The third quarter was a deja vu moment for both teams. Ayer-Shirley appeared to be in the driver's seat for the early portion of the quarter, leading by seven after a give-and-go from Emily Megan to Hebert under the basket to make the score 33-26 with 4:04 remaining. Babcock would hammer home a three-pointer from the left elbow with 2:40 remaining in the third to push the Panthers lead to eight after a Dorney layup. But Littleton came clawing back and finished the third on a 7-0 run highlighted by a three-pointer from Kellie Larsen. The Tigers' late spurt brought them within one as the third quarter came to a close, 36-35.
Littleton continued to look like they were going to reclaim the lead, but the Panthers defense failed to wither under pressure. Kristen Smith went to the line and hit the back end of two free-throws to tie the game at 36-36 in the first minute of the quarter. Babcock hit a clutch three-pointer off a streamlined pass from Hebert at the elbow to give the Panthers a 44-39 lead with 3:25 remaining.
Littleton continued to battle, but as soon as they scored, so did the Panthers. Olivia Warila rattled home a three-point dagger with 47 seconds left to stifle a late Littleton surge. Megan knocked down a pair of free-throws in the final seconds to secure the Panthers win.
"Babcock and Warila hit big threes in the fourth quarter," said Page. "I think it takes someone with mental toughness to take that shot in the fourth quarter with the game on the line and both girls didn't hesitate. That's the difference between a great shooter and a great player."