AYER -- It wasn't an absolute must win, but for the Ayer-Shirley girls' basketball team, Sunday's contest could have proven the difference between playing in the postseason or not. The Lady Panthers played with a sense of urgency and got a standout performance by Gabby Hebert, who scored 14 of her game-high 18 points in the second half, to key a 57-40 victory over Parker in nonleague action.
"Gabby was great tonight and really picked her game up when we needed it the most," said Ayer-Shirley coach Pete Page, whose team moved to 9-9 on the season. "I thought we did a good job of forcing a lot of turnovers, but also took care of the ball on offense. We got after it on defense, which is kind of our calling card, and offensively our shots were falling."
On the other side, Parker coach Ben Benoit was happy with the effort put forth by his squad. "We played hard, and I thought we did a lot of good things, but we just turned the ball over too much tonight," said Benoit, whose team already has clinched a District berth at 13-6. "I thought we struggled to find any type of rhythm in the first half. We would play great for a minute and then get sloppy for three minutes. Losses are always tough, but it is nice to see Pete get a win they needed and hopefully they will make their way to the playoffs as well."
Over the first four and a half minutes, Ayer-Shirley took advantage of nine Parker turnovers to jump out to an eight-point lead. Emily Megan connected on four free-throws while Tina Babcock knocked down a three-pointer off a Gabby Hebert feed. When Melissa Belanger knocked down a 15-foot jumper off a Megan dish, the Lady Panthers held a 10-2 advantage.
After a sloppy start, Parker eventually settled in and closed the opening quarter with seven unanswered points. Katie Williamson drained a trey from the left wing, Alanna Draleau hit a for a layup while Riley Sanderson converted an offensive rebound into a bucket that cut the Ayer-Shirley lead to one at 10-9.
It was Ayer-Shirley's turn to come up with a run and they did, reeling off eight straight points to open up some breathing room. Ginger Gamelin was the catalyst, connecting on a three-pointer and adding a single free-throw that extended the advantage to nine at 18-9 before Ayer-Shirley eventually settled for an eight-point edge at 24-16 heading into the intermission.
"We were struggling a bit after a good start, and Ginger came up with that big three that got us back on the right track," said Page. "I thought we did a good job on the boards, especially offensive rebounds (13 in the first half) and that helped us with a lot of second-chance points, which were key."
Behind the hot hand of Hebert, Ayer-Shirley extended the lead to 14 midway through the third quarter. The junior center scored eight points on a 15-foot jumper, layup and four free-throws to help make it a 37-23 game.
It seemed every time Parker threatened to cut the advantage to single digits, Hebert was there with an answer. Hebert capped off her perfect second half (4 for 4 from the field, 6 for 6 from the line) by connecting on a 15-foot jumper off an Olivia Warlia look that pushed the lead to 15 at 47-32.
Parker tried to claw back into the game behind the play of Tate Jordan, who scored 12 of her 13 points in the second half, but turnovers continued to be an issue. Parker turned the ball over 43 times and never found a consistent rhythm offensively that allowed them to make a serious run. Molly Kane closed out the scoring with a driving layup in the final minute to account for the final and draw Ayer-Shirley within one win of clinching a District berth.
"I thought we played a very aggressive man-to-man defense tonight and that was a key to us consistently putting pressure on the ball," said Page. "We also did a great job of making the extra pass and finding the best available shot. It was a great team effort in a game that was big for our post-season hopes."
Along with her 18 points, Hebert added 13 rebounds, three assists, five steals and five blocked shots. Gamelin finished with 10 points. Megan chipped in nine points and three assists while Belanger (six points) and Tina Babcock (five points and seven steals) also played well.
Jordan paced Parker with 13 points, eight rebounds and three steals. Williamson contributed 10 points and three steals. Paige Senatore contributed six points and 11 boards, while Allie McNulty added five points, nine rebounds and six steals.