AYER — Gabby Hebert has been a force to be reckoned with on the glass all season long for Ayer Shirley.
With 25 seconds remaining in regulation Wednesday night in the opening round of the Division 4 girls' basketball District Tournament. Hebert ripped down a rebound on the right block and kissed it off the glass to put the Panthers up, 41-40 late.
"That's fitting that Gabby got the rebound," Ayer Shirley head coach Pete Page said with a smile. "Gabby has been the kind of person who has done a lot for us all year. But, I thought everybody stepped up. Melissa Belanger's on-ball defense was outstanding. Our sophomore point guard Hailie Young hit that huge front-end of that one-and-one -- it put us up by two."
Hebert finished with a team-high 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. No. 8 Ayer Shirley would go on to defeat No. 9 Douglas, 42-40.
"It was awesome to get the win on our home floor," Hebert said. "It was our first home district game in a while -- it was great."
The Lady Panther defense forced four shot-clock violations -- two of which came in the first half. It was a historic win of sorts - it was the final game inside the historic Ayer Shirley gymnasium.
This was the last time the panther logo was going to host a game," Page said. "It was a hard fought game, but we were able to win at home with a great crowd and send our historic gym out with a win."
The Lady Panthers started the first quarter on fire, outscoring Douglas, 9-2, following a three-pointer by Hebert with 4:45 left in the first. Douglas's Taryn Cordani drained a three-pointer from the top of the key to bring the Tigers within two, 12-10.
Ayer Shirley capped off the quarter on a 9-3 run as Kayla Timminsconnected on a driving layup late. Ayer Shirley led 19-13 at the end of one.
"Kayla Timmins gave us some of the best quality minutes coming off the bench we have had all year, " the coach said. "She not only played great defense in limited minutes but also was a force on the boards and added eight points - a season high - in a big spot for us."
Douglas and Ayer Shirley followed suit in the second quarter with more of the same nip-and-tuck play. Following a pair of converted free throws by Young, the Lady Panthers upped their advantage to eight, 21-13, 30-seconds into the second. The Ayer Shirley offense fell dormant with 2:40 remaining in the second. Douglas used an 8-0 run to seize the lead, 23-21, on a three-point bomb from Courtney Hill. The Lady Panthers, however, managed to regain the lead,29-27, late in the frame on a Hebert jump-shot -- that is where the score would stand as the half came to a close.
Ayer Shirley went down by its biggest margin of the night -- four -- midway through the third quarter. Junior Olivia Warila hit a free-throw to bring the Lady Panthers within one, 35-34, as the third quarter ended.
Ayer Shirley trailed twice with under three minutes remaining, but its defense was able to weather the storm with clutch rebounds from Belanger and a block under the basket by Hebert. With under 40 seconds remaining in the game, Page used a timeout to setup a three-point shot attempt in the corner by Tina Babcock. Babcock's attempt clanged off the back iron, and Hebert crashed the boards hard and laid the ball off the glass for the eventual game-winning shot.
"I thought our defense was very good tonight," he said. "They (Douglas) were running the weave up top and as soon as we made adjustments. The second we started switching we were fine. My hats are off to Douglas -- when they let that three-pointer go (late), my heart was up in my throat."
Ayer Shirley advances to Saturday's quarterfinals where it will meet the No. 1 seed Advanced Math and Science Academy in Marlboro at 7 p.m.