AYER -- For the Ayer-Shirley boys' basketball team, Friday night was a chance to move one step closer to a District berth and possibly lock up a Clark Tournament berth. On the other side, for Bromfield, it was a chance to play the spoiler. Trailing by one early in the fourth quarter, the Panthers came up with the biggest run of the night, closing the game on a 10-4 kick to claim a 40-35 victory in Wachusett League D action.
"It is a win, which is what we needed. It wasn't pretty, but at this point in the season the most important thing is getting the win," said Ayer-Shirley coach Justin Carlson. "I was really happy with our defensive effort today. We did a good job of forcing tough shots and not letting them get inside. Offensively, we executed pretty well, we just couldn't get anything to fall. Despite that, we were able to do enough to win and that is all that matters."
The teams traded mini-runs to open the game as Tyler Gaetz knocked down a three-pointer and Ryan Richard hit a short jumper, both off Ryan Goodman feeds to put the Panthers up 5-0 early on. Layups by Jake Frackiewicz and Ryan Kennedy drew the Trojans to within one at 5-4.
Holding a 9-8 lead late in the first quarter, Ayer-Shirley ripped off an 8-2 spurt to take their largest lead of the night. Zak Walker and Ryan Coulter connected from beyond the arc to get things rolling. Coulter then set up Walker for a layup that gave the Panthers a 17-10 lead with 5:15 to play in the second quarter.
Bromfield dug in defensively, pitching a shutout over the remainder of the first half while putting together 13 consecutive points to take the lead. Ryan O'Leary got things started with a driving layup while Trevor Granville followed up with a long three-pointer and an eight-foot jumper to tie things at 17-17. Ben Veno gave the Trojans their first lead of the night with a pair of free-throws while Kevin Sun hit a pair of layups to make it a six-point game at 23-17 heading into the break.
We did a great job of coming out and dictating the flow of play which was one of our goals," said Bromfield acting coach Ed Frackiewicz. "I thought we did a good job defensively on their scorers and made them go to other options. Offensively, we struggled early on, but then we had the big run to close out the half and put ourselves in a good position to get a win."
Bromfield's advantage grew to eight at 29-21 on a Granville layup off a Kennedy feed with four minutes to go into the third quarter. With the game slipping away, Ayer-Shirley needed an answer and got one in the way of a 9-0 run to regain the lead.
Coulter kicked things off with a 17-foot jumper that was followed by a Gaetz three-pointer that forced a timeout by the Trojans. The timeout did not derail the momentum, as Richard hit a free-throw before setting up a Goodman three-pointer that gave Ayer-Shirley a 30-29 edge with 7:18 to play.
Kennedy stopped the bleeding momentarily, connecting on a layup off a Frackiewicz feed to give Bromfield a 31-30 advantage. The basket was a rarity for the Trojans in the second half as they went ice cold from the field, connecting on just 4 of their 31 shots as they watched their lead slip away.
I felt like we wore down as the game went on," said Frackiewicz. "We have had a lot of issues with injuries this year and it limits the amount of kids we can play. So we will wear down as the game goes on and that is what happened tonight. Our shots that were falling in the first half weren't going late. The effort was there, I just feel like it was tired legs."
Down by one, the Panthers made their final charge, closing the game with 10 of the final 14 points. Richard was the catalyst, scoring six points in a row on a pair of layups and a short jumper. Anthony Burwell connected on a five-foot jumper off an offensive rebound, while Gaetz closed the scoring with a layup to account for the five-point victory.
"We got some big minutes off the bench from Coulter and Burwell. They did a great job tonight," said Carlson. "Richard came up with six big points when we needed them. Goodman was solid at the point once again. This was a team win and to get a sweep against Bromfield for the season is nice. We moved a step closer to our goals of making Clark and Districts. All in all, this was a very good night."
Gaetz paced Ayer-Shirley with 12 points. Richard finished with nine points, nine rebounds and four assists. Walker added seven points, six boards and three steals while Coulter chipped in five points and seven rebounds.