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AYER — On paper, Tuesday’s match-up in the opening round of the 2007 Holiday Basketball Tournament was a complete mismatch. The Ayer boys’ basketball team held an edge in athleticism, size, speed and skill. It was because of those large edges that the Panthers defeated Parker Charter School 71-55 despite a half-hearted effort that left Coach John Rivett disappointed.

“We got thoroughly outplayed tonight and really did not deserve to win this game,” said Rivett. “I thought that we were not focused from the get go and it has been that way every game this season. We have the talent to be good, but we need to come together and straighten some things out in order for us to be successful.”

The final score doesn’t indicate the closeness of the game. Parker did an outstanding job of attacking the basket all night, getting a number of uncontested lay-ups. Despite being the shorter team, Parker outrebounded Ayer 39-38 and won the battle to almost every loose ball, but their gritty effort came up short in the end.

After falling behind 4-0, Parker ran off a 7-2 run to take their first lead of the night. When Matt Ashe drained a three-pointer off a Conor Draleau feed, Parker held a 7-6 advantage despite turning the ball over eight times in the first five minutes of the game.

Ayer responded by closing out the first quarter on an 8-2 run to regain the lead. They pounded the ball inside, getting three lay-ups and a pair of free throws, including a Kenny Rollins lay-in off a Mike Ahern look that made it 14-9.

The lead grew to as much as 13 when Charlie Jones knocked down a trey off a Rollins feed as it appeared Ayer was about to blow the game open. But Parker fought back, closing out the first half with 12 of the final 17 points.

Josh Jones got things started with consecutive short jumpers while Nat MacDonald closed off the run in style. The junior forward came up with five points, including consecutive lay-ups to close out the half to draw Parker to within 30-24 at halftime.

Trailing 35-26, Parker put together another run, scoring 11 of the next 13 points to draw even. Jones continued his hot play by knocking down consecutive three-pointers while MacDonald added a pair of lay-ups, the second one coming off a great look by Ashe and knotting the score at 37-37.

Cliff Shultz put Ayer on top at the end of the third quarter with a pull-up,15-foot jumper, but Draleau responded for Parker with a pair of free throws that tied the game at 43-43 early in the fourth quarter. That was the last time the game was in doubt.

After sleep walking through the first three quarters, Ayer opened things up with a 15-1 run to gain control of the contest. Rollins was the catalyst, making the most of his move to the point by running the offense efficiently. He picked up five points during the run while adding two assists, including a feed that set up Jon Minnich’s 17-foot jumper that made it a 58-44 game with three minutes to play.

Parker fought to the final whistle, but never got the lead under 12 points as Ayer advanced to the championship game against Lunenburg.

“The one good thing that came out of this game was how well Kenny ran the point for us,” said Rivett. “I debated making that move for awhile and I was pleased with his play tonight. We had some foul trouble again and we have to get better at not committing bad fouls. I like that we have a chance to play for a championship. That is a good thing for the kids and we just need to come out and put a solid effort together.”

Sean Sullivan led Ayer with 20 points. Rollins finished the night with 16 points, nine assists and three steals. Shultz added 10 points, nine rebounds, four steals and three assists while Jones chipped in eight points.

Jones paced Parker with 25 points. MacDonald added 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals. Ashe (six boards and four steals) and Draleau (eight rebounds) each finished with seven points.