AYER -- When the Ayer-Shirley and Groton-Dunstable volleyball teams clash, it is almost certain that it will be a highly competitive match.
That held true Friday night inside the Ayer-Shirley gymnasium as Groton-Dunstable snuck away with a 3-1 victory over the Lady Panthers (25-15,28-26,24-26,25-11).
The Lady Panthers did not make it easy for Groton-Dunstable as Ayer-Shirley staved off being swept in the second set by battling back from as much as eight points down, to force the match to a decisive fourth set.
"We took game one pretty handily, and we kind of slipped back a little bit," Groton-Dunstable head coach Lisa LaPierre said. "We thought it was going to be a quick three-game set. But, the second set went long, and we ended up winning that. In the third set, we thought we were winning it, but they (Ayer-Shirley) ended up taking that set."
For Donna Ferreira's Lady Panthers, she could not be more proud.
"I was happy with the speed they played with and their heart and fight," Ferreira said. "Groton is a big team. I tried to send a girl to the outside because they (Groton-Dunstable) have such big girls in the middle. I wanted to accentuate the fact that we would have a better chance without a big blocker on the right side of the net. It was more a kind of strategy and keeping them calm. They get nervous at home games."
Groton-Dunstable took command of the first set from the opening serve. The Lady Crusaders' largest lead of the set came on a wicked spike by Taylor White. White received a great set from Rose O'Malley and pummeled it to the middle of the floor to put Groton-Dunstable up 20-9. Ayer-Shirley picked up a couple of points late in the match before the Lady Crusaders coasted to a 25-15 first-set victory.
Groton-Dunstable senior captain, Katie Harte, hammered home the decisive 25th point to end the match.
Set two was one of epic proportions for both teams. Groton-Dunstable and Ayer-Shirley combined for 54 points and were tied on multiple occasions. Groton-Dunstable led by as much as three points, when O'Malley hammered home an ace to make it 12-9.
Ayer-Shirley came roaring back as senior captain Emma Sheils blasted an ace. Three points later, the Lady Panthers tied it on a beautiful set by Wright to Stephanie Chilicky who tipped it over the net to make it 15-15. The Lady Panthers sounded off three consecutive service points with stellar play from Rebecca Ernst and Jennifer McGrath. But the Lady Crusaders came storming back with three points of their own to take an 18-15 lead. The two teams traded points before Groton-Dunstable eventually came away with the 28-26 victory.
In set three, Ayer-Shirley refused to go down quietly. The Lady Panthers went on a 5-2 run to bring themselves back within two at 21-19. A pair of aces from McGrath kept the Lady Panthers in the match. The Lady Panthers kept grinding and took the match, 26-24, on a thunderous spike from Wright.
Groton-Dunstable put the Lady Panthers away in the fourth set pretty handily, 25-11. For Ayer-Shirley, freshman libero Sarah Ernst led the Lady Panthers with 16 digs. Ayer-Shirley's Becca Ernst contributed three kills, an ace and two blocks. Groton-Dunstable was led by Junior Jamie Debreceni (10 kills), senior Katrina Kangwijaya (16 digs) and O'Malley with seven aces.
"At the end of the year, the league title is usually between three teams," LaPierre said. "We always try to battle it out. It is in cross proximity to Groton. So, it's always a great game when we come here."