AYER -- The Ayer-Shirley Lady Panthers were tied with West Boylston for third-place in the Mid-Wach D division prior to Friday afternoon's meeting.

The Lady Panthers scored two second half goals to sneak past the Lady Lions by a score of 3-1.

Following the win, Ayer-Shirley takes sole-possession of second place.

"They (West Boylston) are down a few players, but at the same time, it is very rare that we beat West Boylston, said Ayer-Shirley head coach Justin Carlson. "I think it's my first time that we beat West Boylston in the eight seasons that I have coached. This win shows that we are able to compete with the best teams in our league."

The Lady Lions struck first on a booming ball to the left of the net by Katie McKeon in the 20th minute. However, Ayer-Shirley kept its composure and scored two minutes later. Junior Taryn Manna accepted a pass from her sister, freshman Cassidy Manna. Cassidy hit a perfectly placed through-ball to Taryn who beat the keeper low right, to equalize the match, at 1-1.

"We kept our composure through the entire game," Carlson said. "Even when they knocked one in early on us. This team has really done a great job all season not hanging their heads and keep battling. We scored three unanswered goals, and I feel like all 11 are playing really well together."

Ayer-Shirley took its first lead of the match six minutes into the second half on a penalty kick. Cassidy Manna was tripped up inside the 18-yard box.


On the shot, Cassidy Manna went top-shelf to beat West Boylston goalkeeper, Tess Blodget. Already holding a 2-1 lead, Ayer-Shirley was able to cash in on the counter attack. West Boylston started to push a few more attackers up top, that's when the Lady Panthers pounced.

Senior captain Holly Caires dribbled feverishly into the attacking zone and uncorked a curling blast from outside the 18-yard box. Caires' shot whistled through the air past the outstretched hands of Blodget, to give the Lady Panthers a 3-1 lead, with 9:30 remaining in regulation.

West Boylston continued to apply pressure on the Ayer-Shirley defense late in regulation. McKeon had an opportune chance to cash in on a free kick from about 22 yards out. McKeon struck the ball with a bit too much pace, and it sailed haphazardly over the crossbar.

Second-year player Gabby Hebert has impressed Carlson with her athleticism and the speed in which she picked up the game.

"They were aggressively challenging on defense," the coach said of his back line. "That is really leading to some transition and great opportunities on offense. Gabby is a player who is going to get better as the season goes on. She is a competitor. We are not out of a hunt for first-place right now. She kind of keeps us there."

Ayer-Shirley goaltender Melissa Belanger made seven saves in the win.

"Even though we only won two games last year, we thought we could come in and go from last place to try and compete for first-place," Carlson said. "Not a lot of teams can do that. I like this team that I have. We need to get at least four more (wins) to get into districts."