AYER -- Each of the final four games for the Ayer-Shirley volleyball team is a must-win if it wants to make back-to-back appearances in the CMass Tournament.
On Tuesday night, inside their home gym, the Lady Panthers dropped a three-set decision to defending league champ Hudson, (20-25,22-25,16-25). Ayer-Shirley trailed in the opening four match-points in two-out-of-the-three, sets, but it's display of heart never faltered.
The Lady Panthers were severely undersized compared to their counterparts from Hudson who according to Ayer-Shirley assistant coach Mike Ferriera, had players who competed in the junior Olympics.
"I felt like we stuck right with them," Ayer-Shirley assistant coach Amanda Carlson said. "We had good passing and serving in those first two sets. We hung right with them. They (Hudson) jumped on some little mishaps."
Ayer-Shirley trailed, 4-0, early in the first set, but the Lady Panthers capitalized on a pair of Hudson side-outs. Early in the first set, Ayer-Shirley's Taylor Wright hammered home a perfect serve from Julie Maillet to bring the Lady Panthers back within two, 4-2. The Lady Panthers' first lead of set one came off a Hudson mis-hit by Nicole Mooar, that skimmed over the left sideline to hand the hosts a 6-5 advantage.
A wicked spike from Stephanie Chilicky and a Hudson service error, helped Ayer-Shirley take its largest lead of the match, 9-7.
The two teams locked horns four times in set one before Hudson went on a 5-0 unanswered streak to close out the match.
A pair of precise serves from senior captain Emma Sheils helped the Lady Panthers coast out to an early 2-0 lead, but they could not silence the Lady Hawks for long. Hudson used a pair of Ayer-Shirley errors and a hard serve by its libero Danielle Bobe to take its first lead of the match, 4-3. However, the lead would not last long for Hudson as a pair of costly service errors allowed the Lady Panthers to retake the lead, 5-4.
Ayer-Shirley went on to take three out of the next five match-points to extend its lead to 9-6. A combined effort on the ninth point from Chilicky, Wright and Sheils was a spectacle of note due to the grittiness of the trio. Hudson's Chelsey Scouli blasted a spike over the net, but Wright saved it, then Sheils got a piece, all before Chilicky hammered the ball into no man's land to give the Lady Panthers a three-point cushion.
The Lady Panthers and Hudson were tied five times in the match before the Lady Hawks outscored the hosts, 4-3, in the final stretch. Ayer-Shirley captain Katherine Esielionis recorded a pair of aces in set two.
Hudson ran away with game three despite a gutsy effort by the Lady Panthers. Ayer-Shirley trailed by as much as seven points in game four, 14-7, on a side-out. Ayer-Shirley responded with a pair of points to bring itself back within four, at 15-11. Stalwart play by Sheils and top-notch kills from Maddie Mitrano translated into Lady Panthers points. Sheils had a nice set for Mitrano, who blasted the ball into the far right corner.
Later in the match, Mitrano helped her team get as close as four points, 18-14, but the Lady Hawks' outside hitting proved to be too tough for the Lady Panthers. Hudson closed the match on a thunderous block by Scouil for the decisive match-point.
"They left it all out there," Carlson said. "We have a few more games that we have to go after. We need to get the last four to make it."