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Strong defense, Morrison’s two goals propel Panthers

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AYER — The Ayer boys soccer team is enjoying an outstanding season, but the Panthers are being forced to make a run at a District berth the hard way. With barely over 11 players on the roster, the Panthers have been forced to be iron men in every game.

Ayer wrote a new chapter to the story on Thursday, defeating Clinton 2-0 and playing more than a half with just 10 players after a first-half ejection. The victory improved the Panthers to 5-1-2 and increased the likelihood that its season will extend beyond the regular season.

“We started in a different formation today and I’m very happy with the start we got off to,” said Ayer coach John Weeks. “After we were forced to play with 10 players we did a nice job and managed to keep the pressure on Clinton. We got good efforts from a lot of kids, and Ryan Goodman was outstanding in his first game at sweeper. Everyone stepped up when we needed them to.”

The Panthers did an outstanding job of forcing the action throughout the game, owning a decisive 21-5 edge in shots on goal. Ayer was consistent in both halves, and never let down after taking the lead.

The Panthers threatened two minutes into the game when Zak Keeley sent a pass in front to Ryan Bota, who fired a shot over the crossbar.

Clinton’s best opportunity of the first half was denied by a solid defensive effort from the Panthers. Kenson Segu sent a lead pass up right wing to Yoni Aguilar, whose dangerous cross in front of the net was cleared away by Ayer’s Tim White.

The Panthers drew first blood at 17:23 on a pretty goal. Maurice Bechara sent a well-placed pass to Bota outside the left post. He sent a pass to Ian Morrison at the right post and he fired a short shot inside the post to make it 1-0.

Clinton goaltender Matt Royal (19 saves) did all he could to keep the Gaels in the game, and he came up with a brilliant save at 24 minutes to keep it a one-goal game. Bota sent a pass in front to Morrison, whose quick one-timer from point-blank range was stopped by the Clinton netminder.

The Panthers’ defense of Goodman, Andrew Stiling and White did an outstanding job of diffusing Clinton offensive forays with confident play, and Ayer had four solid scoring chances in the final 10 minutes of the half to try to extend the lead.

At 31 minutes, Morrison’s testing shot from close range was denied by Royal.

At 35 minutes, Keeley weaved through a number of Clinton defenders, but his shot from close range was stopped.

A minute later, Morrison made a strong right wing run and rolled a hard shot, but Royal made the save.

A minute later, Bota broke in alone from right wing, and ripped a shot over the cross bar.

The Panthers took the 1-0 lead to intermission, owning a 10-4 edge in shots on goal.

The flow of the game was the same in the second half as the Panthers came out testing Royal. Keeley had a solid chance eight minutes in, but his hard shot was stopped by the Clinton netminders.

At the 9-minute mark, the Gaels were called for a foul in the penalty box and Morrison converted the penalty kick for a crucial insurance goal.

Ayer received solid work in the middle of the field from White, who was active both offensively and defensively and helped to get the offensive game into gear.

The Panthers put together a strong team defensive effort the rest of the way, complemented by control of the midfield area as they allowed only one Clinton shot on goal in the second half.

Ryan Madigan earned the shutout in goal for the Panthers, making five saves.

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