AYER -- What was supposed to be a day of celebration for the Ayer-Shirley boys' basketball team turned into a day of disappointment. Needing a win to clinch a District berth, the Panthers were shocked by a Parker team that relished playing the role of spoiler, claiming a 43-40 victory in nonleague action on Sunday night.
"We wanted to get this win to clinch the berth in Districts and I felt we might have played a little tight," said Ayer-Shirley coach Justin Carlson, whose team fell to 9-8 on the campaign. "This was a big game for us and we are a young team that doesn't have a lot of experience in this situation. The bright side is, we still have two games to get the win we need, but it would have been nice to get it today. Give credit to Parker though, they made the plays that needed to be made."
Parker took advantage of some ice cold shooting from Ayer-Shirley to run out to a 9-2 lead. Giancarlo Greco got things rolling with a driving layup while Jim Flannagan added a three-pointer from the right wing. Kyle Dokus controlled the middle early on, knocking down a turn-around five-foot jumper and converting an offensive rebound into a layup to give his team a seven-point advantage.
After going 1 for 11 from the floor to start things off, Ayer-Shirley finally found their touch, hitting five of their next seven shots as part of a 13-2 run to grab the lead. Ryan Richard broke the ice with a three-pointer while Tyler Gaetz kept things going.
The teams battled to a near draw over the remaining five minutes of the opening half as the Ayer-Shirley advantage stayed between two and six points. Kyle McNamara hit a three-pointer for Parker, while Ryan Coulter put home four points for Ayer-Shirley, who took a 22-17 advantage into the locker rooms.
"I thought offensively we came out and got good shots but couldn't get anything to fall early on," said Carlson. "Defensively, we did a great job of forcing tough shots. For as bad as we played to start, it was a promising sign to have a five-point lead at the half.
During the third quarter, Parker threatened several times to draw even, but could not get over the hump. Dokus came up with four points on a pair of layups, twice drawing Parker within two. Will Bryant closed out the quarter with an offensive rebound and put back that cut the Ayer-Shirley advantage to two at 30-28.
Anthony Burwell, who was solid off the bench in the post, pushed the lead back to four with an offensive rebound and put back, but Parker answered with a 6-0 run. McNamara and Dokus hit for layups before Bryant knocked down an eight-foot jumper off a Jesse Levines pass that gave Parker a 34-32 lead.
The next four minutes featured two ties and four lead changes, the last of which came on a running eight-foot jumper by Gaetz that gave Ayer-Shirley a 40-39 edge. However, with 12 seconds left, Levines calmly knocked down a pair of free-throws to give Parker a one-point advantage. After an Ayer-Shirley turnover, Levines knocked down two more free-throws. A last-second heave from 65 feet fell short as Parker held on for the three-point win.
"We had some chances at the end, but we didn't execute," said Carlson. "It is a tough loss to take right now, but we have to quickly shift our focus to the next game and trying to get that District berth secured."
Gaetz led Ayer-Shirley with 13 points. Richard (nine rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots) and Burwell (five boards) finished with seven points apiece.
Dokus led Parker with 12 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. McNamara finished with eight points while Levines chipped in seven points, six assists and three blocked shots. Ayer-Shirley faces-off with Narragansett tonight at home.
Earlier in the week, the Panthers secured a no. seven seed in the 75th annual Clark Tournament. Ayer-Shirley will take on Quaboag in the opening round on Sunday at 2:45 p.m. inside the Knoller Athletic Center. This trip marks the 27th time the Panthers have qualified for the tourney.