BOLTON — Entering Monday night’s Nashoba Summer Basketball League playoff game against Clinton, the Ayer girls basketball team was looking to cement a berth in the finals against Groton-Dunstable with a win over Clinton. The Lady Panthers did just that, firing on all cylinders and rolling to an impressive 55-25 victory.
All nine Ayer players who set foot on the court had a hand in the win as everyone scored, including a pair of players in double figures. But the key stat of the night might have been Ayer’s 37-19 dominance off the backboards, which kept Clinton to one possession offensively, while Ayer prolonged possessions and tacked on points by hauling down 18 offensive rebounds.
Offensively, the Lady Panthers complemented their solid boardwork with the ability to score from within the paint. Solid passing and good ball movement contributed to a number of easy baskets in the game.
Brynnan Farrington paced the victory with 13 points and ten rebounds, while ever-improving Casey Hardgraves added 10 points, two rebounds and two steals.
After Clinton took the lead with the first basket of the game, Katie Poitras put the Lady Panthers on top for good by converting a steal into a conventional three-point play. Consecutive follow-up baskets by Ashley Christy (seven points, nine rebounds) and Farrington quickly upped the advantage to five at 7-2.
Clinton sliced a point off the lead on a free throw by Nicole Ramig, but that was as close as the Gaels would get. Ayer scored six of the final eight points of the first quarter on baskets by Farrington, Kelsey McCallan and Sarah Megan to take a 13-5 lead. Megan finished with four points in the contest but was the key element of the ball-hawking Ayer defense, making five steals.
Christy opened the second quarter with a short jumper to extend the advantage to double digits, but Clinton wouldn’t go away. Late in the quarter, Hillary Hart (five points, six rebounds, two steals) converted after hauling down an offensive rebound to draw the Gaels to within 20-12.
Ayer finished the half strongly by getting a pair of baskets from their transition game, Poitras and Megan setting up fast break baskets by Amanda Shaughnessy (eight points, five rebounds) and Poitras to move the Lady Panthers in front 24-12 at intermission.
Keyed by the efforts of Farrington and Christy, Ayer outrebounded the Gaels 21-7 over the first 20 minutes.
After the teams traded baskets to open the second half, Ayer broke the game open with three consecutive baskets. Megan finished off a strong drive, Farrington hit a lay-up, before Hardgraves finished off a fast break with a lay-up after taking a pass from Megan to make it 32-14.
The Lady Panthers continued to play with intensity and when Poitras finished off the quarter with a lay-up, the lead was 20 at 39-19 entering the final quarter.
Eight consecutive points by Ayer to open the fourth quarter put the game totally out of reach. Shaughnessy scored on a lay-up, Christy finished off a drive, Shaughnessy converted after grabbing an offensive rebound, before Michelle Gardner made it 47-19 with a follow-up basket.
Despite being out of it, Clinton continued to get hustling efforts from Hart, Lauren Byron (three points, four rebounds) and Ramig, who finished with five points and five rebounds.
Ayer received solid contributions from McCallan, who finished with two points and four rebounds, and Chelsea Belanger, who had two points, three rebounds and a hustling defensive effort. Poitras ran the offense with efficiency from her point guard position, played tough defense and chipped in with seven points. Ayer’s defense held Clinton to just seven field goals in the game.
The finals will match the two best teams in Groton-Dunstable and Ayer. Groton-Dunstable will come into the contest with an unbeaten record. Ayer dropped just one contest, a tough three-point defeat to Groton-Dunstable.