AYER — When a team reaches the semifinals of the Districts, there are no easy matches. On Wednesday night, Douglas proved to be a stubborn foe, but the Ayer volleyball team shifted gears after a first game loss and captured the final three games to move into the Central Mass. Div. 3 finals against Millis.
Ayer won by scores of 23-25, 25-16, 25-13 and 25-22.
Douglas prevailed 25-23 in the first game and the Tigers bolted out to a 6-1 lead in game two, but Ayer turned things around behind a pair of service runs to capture the game and even the match.
Trailing 8-4, Ayer picked up a sideout before Brynnan Farrington served six consecutive points, including an ace to give the Lady Panthers an 11-8 lead.
Douglas battled back, taking a 15-14 advantage on back-to-back kills by Alyssa Dagenais and Jennifer Mailhiot. The Tigers did a great job of placing the ball near the lines, both on hits and serves, making the Lady Panthers make difficult decisions about whether to play the ball or not.
After the Lady Panthers evened the game with a sideout, Shanna DeBalsi served nine consecutive points, including four aces, aided by kills by Farrington and Ally Fillebrown to put the game out of reach.
In game three, the Lady Panthers fired on all cylinders after the teams split the first 24 points. Ayer picked up a sideout to take a 13-12 advantage, and Anna Peck stepped up to the service line and served five consecutive points, forcing Douglas to call a timeout. Farrington and DeBalsi both came up big at the net during the spurt with a pair of kills apiece. Peck continued her run with three more points, helped by another Farrington kill, which extended the lead to 21-12.
Douglas sliced two points off the lead before Ayer got the ball back with a sideout and DeBalsi finished the game off with three service points.
As game four started, it appeared that Douglas had lost its will to fight. Five successive service points by Peck, keyed by a block and a kill by Farrington, quickly made it 6-0. After both teams exchanged errant serves, DeBalsi’s six consecutive service points put the Lady Panthers in command at 13-1.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the rout as the Tigers regrouped and climbed back into the game. Kendra Hildebrand came off the bench and provided a spark with seven consecutive service points, capped by a kill by Shannon Madden, which drew Douglas to within 15-11.
Ayer created breathing room with a sideout on a Fillebrown kill and a Fillebrown service point for a six- point advantage, but Douglas refused to go away. The visitors scored 11 of the next 16 points to make it 22-21 and the Tigers had momentum firmly in its corner.
Fillebrown stepped up with a well-timed kill to double the lead and three points later, Farrington wrapped up the match with an ace.
Ayer finished with 59 service points in the match, including 11 aces, led by DeBalsi with 23 service points (five aces). The sophomore added four kills. Peck finished with 15 service points, six kills and a block, while Farrington added nine service points (two aces), 12 kills and three blocks, and Fillebrown seven service points (four aces) and seven kills. The Lady Panthers had 31 kills on the night.
“We came out nervous and had trouble passing the ball,” said Ayer coach Vic Wirkkala. “Halfway through the second game, we shook off the nerves and started to play Ayer volleyball. We served deep and did a good job of keeping the ball in, and that contributed to some long serving runs.
“In the fourth game I think we started celebrating too early,” said Wirkkala. “My hat is off to Douglas, there was no quit in them. Our outside hitting was phenomenal and our middle hitting was solid. Ally and Shanna rose to the occasion, Angel Yang and Katie Ferreira did an outstanding job of setting. This is now the furthest that any Ayer volleyball team has ever advanced.”
Madden led Douglas with 11 service points (two aces) and four kills while Casey Bourque added eight service points (two aces) and three kills.