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MAYNARD — Even the biggest optimist would have thought the Ayer baseball team was done after falling behind 7-0 after three innings of play on Monday. The Panthers had only one hit, had committed four errors and Maynard had chased starter J.J. Thomas after two and a third innings of work. Luckily no one told the players that they weren’t supposed to come back from that type of deficit.

Great relief work from Ryan Carroll along with a six-run fourth inning and single runs in the sixth and seventh brought Ayer all the way back, holding an 8-7 lead heading to the bottom of the seventh. Unfortunately, the Tigers didn’t like the fairy tale ending that was being written and came up with their own as Mike Fowler lined a two-run single to center with two outs to give his team an 9-8 victory.

“This is an absolute heartbreaker,” said Ayer coach Jim Welch. “You know, we come back from the 7-0 deficit and we grab the lead and I thought we had it won. Ryan pitched amazingly in relief and we got the big plays when we needed them, but they (Maynard) got the last big play. What a tough way to have a game and a season end.”

While Maynard starter Chris Celi was dominating the first three innings, his offense was scoring runs. In the first, Mike Marshall (single) and Celi (sacrifice fly) drove home runs. A single by Fowler and a sacrifice fly by James Tyler brought two runs home in the second. Three errors, a sacrifice fly by Celi and an RBI double by Shane Loughlin accounted for three runs in the third as the Tigers jumped out to a 7-0 lead.

With the season slipping away, the Panthers scratched and clawed for six runs in the fourth to draw within one. With one out, Brian Babcock walked, Thomas was hit by a pitch and Jason Lopez singled to load the bases. Jon Minnich reached on a fielder’s choice, scoring Babcock with Ayer’s first run. Nate Higgins, Carlton Ford, Ryan Carroll (two-run) and Trevor Elkins followed with four consecutive RBI singles to make it 7-6.

Carroll pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the inning by notching a pair of strikeouts, and after a scoreless fifth for both teams, the Panthers tied the game in the sixth. Higgins led off with a walk, moved to third on Carlton Ford’s double and scored when Carroll grounded out to make it 7-7.

After Carroll set the side down in order in the bottom of the sixth, Ayer manufactured a run in the seventh to take the lead. Babcock walked, went to second on a wild pitch, to third on a groundout, and scored on a wild pitch.

Celi started the Tigers’ winning rally with a single. One out later, Penfield blooped a single to right field and a bobble and an errant throw put runners on second and third. Carroll got a pop-up for the second out, but Fowler lined a single up the middle to score both runs, giving Maynard a dramatic walk-off win.

“I just can’t say enough about the kids’ character to fight back from that type of deficit,” said Welch. “You have Jon Minnich playing on a torn ACL, Ryan Carroll coming through under amazing pressure; they are just an amazing group of kids. Our bottom of the order in Nate Higgins and Carlton Ford were outstanding today. I just can’t believe it is over.”

Higgins paced Ayer with a walk, two singles, two runs scored and a run-batted-in. Ford had a double, single, run scored and RBI. Carroll went four and a third innings, allowing no earned runs on three hits, walking two and striking out seven while adding a single, run scored and three RBI at the plate.

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