WORCESTER -- There are some days in basketball where no matter what a team does, it just won't be their day. On Sunday, the Ayer-Shirley boys' basketball team ran into that scenario.
The Panthers played hard, owned an advantage on the boards and did everything in their power to stay competitive but it didn't happen. Quaboag, riding a 19-of-34 shooting performance in the first half jumped out to a 47-19 halftime lead and never looked back en route to a 78-45 victory in Clark Tournament quarterfinal action.
"We came in with the mindset of not just being happy to be here and wanting to compete," said Ayer-Shirley coach Justin Carlson. "But, when you don't get here often, you get caught up in the atmosphere. It is a great place to place and is unique. When you look at Quaboag, they are here every year, so they come in and play with confidence and that is where we are trying to get to in the future. I thought we played hard, but when a team shoots 56 percent in the first half, you are going to find yourself in a hole and we couldn't dig our way out."
A Tyler Gaetz 15-foot jumper and Ryan Coulter three-pointer gave the Panthers an early 5-2 lead, but it was the only one they would hold on the day. Turnovers started to plague Ayer-Shirley and the Cougars took advantage with a 17-3 run.
Thomas Jankins, the second leading scorer in Central Massachusetts, showed off his complete offensive game with five points and two assists. Jacob Wisniewski worked the
Down 29-12, the Panthers made a small dent into the lead when Ryan Richard knocked down a try off a John Gendron feed and Gaetz hit a pull-up 14-footer to make it a 30-17 contest, but Quaboag quickly found their rhythm again offensively and closed out the first half with 17 of the final 19 points.
Jankins got things going once again, hitting a running five-foot jumper as part of a conventional three-point play while adding a driving layup and two assists. Ethan Lecaire closed things out with a three-pointer off a Jankins feed and a steal and layup that gave the Cougars a 47-19 lead heading into the half.
"Once we got behind, I thought we started pressing and forcing some shots," said Carlson. "We were frazzled early on and couldn't quite find our footing. I thought our execution wasn't that strong, and it seemed everything that Quaboag put up was going in."
Ayer-Shirley came up with their best stretch of play to start the third quarter, reeling off a 10-2 run. Gaetz opened the second half scoring with a three-pointer off a Zac Walker feed, followed by a Richard layup off a Coulter look. Walker added a pull-up try and Coulter put home a layup off a Gendron pass to cut the lead to 20 at 49-29.
The Cougars quickly regrouped and closed out the third quarter with 18 of the final 24 points to put the game away. Wisniewski was the catalyst, scoring eight points on four layups while Lecaire added five points on a three-pointer and layup. When Wisniewski converted an offensive rebound into a layup, Quaboag held a 67-33 lead.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers continued to fight. Anthony Burwell came off the bench to score points on a trio of short jumpers while Richard and Coulter added buckets, but it was not enough as Ayer-Shirley fell to 11-9 on the season with the 33-point defeat.
Ryan Richard played a really strong game and did a lot of nice things," said Carlson. "Anthony gave us some good minutes off the bench. We tried a lot of different things defensively, but we couldn't find a way to slow them down. Now we need to turn our focus to the Districts and trying to put forth our best effort."
Richard led the Panthers with 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. Gaetz finished with 10 points and five boards. Coulter chipped in nine points and five rebounds while Burwell contributed eight points and 12 boards.
Jankins paced the Cougars with 22 points and four assists. Wisniewski had 18 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and five steals. Lecaire added 14 points, three assists, three steals and two blocks while Pappas scored eight points.