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Sports Editor

AYER — The Shirley Middle School girls basketball team broke open a close game with a 19-3 burst to open the second half, en route to a 35-21 win over Ayer.

Defense dominated the action in the first half, which saw Shirley build a 12-7 lead after 14 minutes.

Brittani Shorey hit a pair of jumpers to open the game, and after Sydney Wood hit a short shot, and Sabrina Schwartz buried a 17-footer, the Hawks led 8-2 after six minutes. Point guard Katie Poitras Controlled the offense well and made quality decisions.

Ayer battled back by scoring five of the next seven points to draw to within 10-7. Michelle Gardner, who played a strong all-around game with two points, six rebounds and three steals, converted after hauling down an offensive rebound, before Brynnan Farrington drained a 15-footer, and Ashley Christy hit a free throw.

Shirley’s Anna Peck capped the scoring in the half by hitting a short jumper to send the Hawks to halftime with their five point lead.

Shirley upped their intensity level at both ends to start the second half and erased all doubts of the outcome. Shorey set the tone, converting steals into lay-ups for the first two baskets, and following by scoring on a drive to make it 18-7.

Ayer briefly answered back, with a free throw by Amanda Shaughnessy and a 15-footer by Chelsea Belanger to draw within 18-10 with 8:50 left in the game.

Shirley then scored 13 unanswered points to move in front 31-10. Schwartz was the catalyst with a fast break lay-up off a pretty pass from Poitras, and a three-pointer.

Ayer could have quit but didn’t and played hard to the final whistle, getting strong play from Shaughnessy and Farrington down the stretch.

Schwartz finished with seven points for Shirley, while Erica Hebert (nine rebounds) and Peck each added four points. Poitras (eight rebounds, four steals), Wood and Sarah Mello added two points apiece.

Shaughnessy led Ayer with seven points and nine rebounds while Farrington added six points and eight rebounds. Belanger and Lauren Johnston (three rebounds) chipped in with two points each, while Olivia Durden and Christy added one point apiece.

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