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‘This was not a great opening night performance.’ – Charlie Noonan, Ayer girls basketball coach

GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL

Ayer 35

Hudson 21

By Ken Blanchette

kblanchette@nashobapub.com

HUDSON — The Ayer girls basketball team has a game plan to move up the ladder this season, to add improved offense to become a more dangerous all-around team. But in the Lady Panthers’ season opener, they depended on old faithful, their aggressive, harassing defense to earn a 35-21 win over Hudson.

Ayer struggled at the offensive end, hitting just 14 of 54 shots from the floor, but were in complete control throughout because they forced 36 Hudson turnovers in the game, which prevented the Hawks from making a sustained charge.

On a brutally cold night, the shooting was frigid inside the warm gym also as both teams struggled to get untracked. After three minutes the game was tied at 2-2, Ayer’s Katy Salka’s two free throws answering a lay-up by Hudson’s Laura Bowen.

Bowen’s lay-up came on the opening tap of the game, but the Lady Panthers then held the Hawks scoreless for the next ten minutes, scoring 13 unanswered points to build a 13-2 lead. Forward Olivia Shultz (12 points, 5 steals) led the way with a pair of baskets from inside the paint. Taeler Connor chipped in with three free throws while Toya Chester and Amanda Carlson converted steals into baskets.

“Toya came in and provided a big lift for us,” said Noonan. “Erin Megan also came off the bench and played well.”

Hudson finally got untracked in the final minute of the half to slice into the lead. Bowen drained a three-pointer before Lindsay Campbell scored on a lay-up to send the Hawks to intermission on the short end of a 17-9 score.

Hudson managed to take just 12 shots over the first 16 minutes, ten of them by Bowen, as 18 turnovers kept them from establishing any momentum.

The teams traded baskets to start the second half, Shultz hitting a lay-up, and Jesse Ventura converting a steal into a basket for the Hawks, before Ayer put together six consecutive points to create some breathing room. Salka buried a 17-footer, Shultz hit a lay-up after a clever pass from Chester, before Chester scored on a drive, forcing a Hudson timeout with 10:47 left with Ayer on top 25-11.

Melissa Tobin drew Hudson within 11 when she connected on a three-pointer, but Salka heated up and drained back-to-back three-pointers to extend the lead to 17 at 31-14. Salka finished with ten points in the game.

Hudson didn’t quit and played hard until the final whistle and got some nice offensive work down the stretch from Bowen, who finished with 11 points.

Chester finished with eight points, eight rebounds and five steals and made a number of solid passes that set teammates up for open shots. Connor played a very strong defensive game, making five steals while scoring three points and grabbing three rebounds. The Lady Panthers used their quick hands to advantage in the game, making 18 steals and continually harassing the Hudson guards into mistakes.

“It is important to win the first game and I am happy with the win,” said Noonan. “We can play better at the offensive end, but we played good defense and worked hard.”

Ayer will seek its second win of the season when they travel to South Lancaster Academy for a Saturday night contest.