AYER -- Ayer-Shirley forward Cassidy Manna recorded a hat trick as the Lady Panthers defeated Mid-Wach D league foe, Tahanto, 5-3, Tuesday at home.
The Lady Panthers led 5-0 early in the second half, but two unanswered tallies by the Lady Stags, helped make it a bit close for comfort.
"We are battling for first-place with a few more games to go in the league," Lady Panthers' head coach Justin Carlson said. "This is one that we definitely had to take care of to even have that opportunity to compete for a league title."
Carlson's Lady Panthers have already surpassed their win total from a year ago, and they currently sit at 8-3-1 following Monday's win.
"I knew Tahanto would not go away," Carlson continued. "They are always a top-tier team in our league and make the playoffs every year. I knew the girls at some point would push. I was glad that we were able to keep our composure and play smart. We are still learning to play that way."
Ayer-Shirley netted its first goal of the match on a brilliant through-ball from senior captain Holly Caires to Manna. Manna collected the through-ball and reeled the keeper off her line.
Manna guided a chip-shot past Anne Cunningham to put the Lady Panthers up 1-0 with 12:23 remaining in the first half. Sixteen seconds later, Tahanto's Maggie May equalized with a blast past the outstretched mitts of Ayer-Shirley goalkeeper Melissa Belanger.
Twenty-three minutes later, it was Cassidy Manna's sister, Taryn, who rippled the twine. Taryn Manna sprinted to the right edge of the 18-yard box and lofted a beautiful goal that caught the jet stream and beat Cunningham to her left, to give the Lady Panthers' a 2-1 advantage.
That is where the score would stand at the half. Ayer-Shirley led the Lady Stags in shots by a margin of 8-3.
Tahanto made a goalie change at the start of the second half, and the Lady Panthers made the most of it. As the light showers and heavy wind were still pouring down on the pitch, Cassidy Manna etched her second tally of the match just 10 seconds into the final frame.
A little over a minute later, sophomore Halie Young gathered an outlet pass from Holly Caires. Young did the rest, blasting a shot in the low left pocket to make it 4-0.
Cassidy Manna netted her third goal of the match, this time on a penalty kick. She was tripped up inside the 18-yard box and made the most of her opportunity as she stutter-stepped and beat the Tahanto keeper, right-side, to give her team a 5-1 lead with 30 minutes left.
There was plenty of time on the clock for Tahanto to make the final result more respectable. That is exactly what they did. Tahanto blasted two unanswered goals in the waning minutes of the match.
Lady Stags' forward Natalia DeRosi was fouled inside the 18-yard box, which prompted a penalty kick. DeRosi uncorked a winder into the wind and it beat Belanger with 13:30 remaining. Seven minutes later, DeRosi chipped a magical goal from the top left corner of the 18-yard box into the low-right sidewall of the net to trim the Lady Panthers' lead to 5-3.
The Lady Panthers' defense held its ground and secured the win.
"We are at eight wins and are just one away from districts with a bunch left to play," Carlson said. "This team won two games last year. Every win at this point is important to the seedings and standings. Going from last-to-first doesn't happen very often."