AYER -- For the Ayer-Shirley girls' basketball team, the task at hand was pretty simple: Win and you are in. Sitting at 9-9, a win in either of their final two regular season games would punch their ticket into the post-season. The Lady Panthers took care of business on their home court, using a 22-8 third quarter run to ease past Murdock 60-32 in Wachusett League D action.
"The girls knew what needed to be done tonight and they put together a great team effort," said Ayer-Shirley coach Pete Page. "We were a little tight early on, but we came out in the third quarter and took care of business. I am just really happy for the seniors. We came close last year but couldn't get it done, so getting to the Districts was our biggest goal and I am so proud of this team for accomplishing that."
Over the game's first eight minutes, the teams played relatively even basketball, as there were four lead changes and two ties. The Lady Panthers took advantage of strong shooting from beyond the arc as all four of their field goals were three-pointers. Emily Megan and Ginger Gamelin hit treys early on, while Tina Babcock came off the bench to hit a pair of three-pointers, the last of which gave Ayer-Shirley a 14-11 lead after a quarter of play.
Defense was the key for the Lady Panthers in the second quarter, as they limited their opponents to just four points. In addition to holding the Lady Blue Devils to just 1-11 shooting from the floor, Ayer-Shirley held a 19-9 advantage on the boards in the quarter and got four points from Anna Peck as the lead grew to eight at 23-15 heading into the intermission.
We didn't really shoot the ball well in the first half (7 of 40 from the field), but our defense was really strong, especially in the second quarter," said Page. "I thought we also did a great job on the boards and limited the amount of second chances they had, which is always something we want to do."
After a sluggish first half of offensive basketball, the Lady Panthers put it all together in the third quarter with 22 points on 9 of 17 shooting. Babcock was the catalyst, scoring eight points on a layup and two long three-pointers. Gabby Hebert scored on consecutive offensive rebounds and put-backs while five other players scored during the quarter. When Babcock knocked down a try off a Hallie Young feed, Ayer-Shirley held a 45-23 advantage with eight minutes to play.
The lead was never in danger again as the Lady Panthers continued their solid play in the final quarter, with six different players scoring. Gamelin and Young led the way with four points apiece as Ayer-Shirley coasted to a 28-point win and a District appearance.
We got a lot of minutes for everyone tonight and everyone had a hand in contributing to this win," said Page. "Tonight was a payoff for all of the hard work the girls put in over the off-season, and now we want to see if we can make a little noise in the tournament."
Babcock led the Lady Panthers with 14 points. Hebert finished with 10 points, 15 rebounds and five steals. Gamelin contributed nine points. Megan added eight points, four boards and three steals while Peck (12 rebounds) and Young scored six points apiece.