ASHBURNHAM — North Middlesex took control by outscoring Ayer 13-2 in the second quarter, en route to a 54-39 win in the Pete Trainor Memorial Girls Basketball Tournament consolation game.
Mackenzie Sharp paced the Lady Patriots with 14 points and seven rebounds, joined in double figures by teammates Hailey Connor (five rebounds, three steals) and Maddie Balassie (seven rebounds, four steals), who each scored 10 points. Emily Church also turned in a strong effort with nine points and 10 rebounds.
Brynnan Farrington led the Lady Panthers with 14 points and six rebounds while Ally Fillebrown added 10 points and three rebounds.
“This was almost a must-win for us,” said North Middlesex coach Pat Murphy. “We head into our league schedule next week and the girls responded well tonight after a tough loss in the tournament opener. Mackenzie played well, and Emily is starting to get it. Also Hailey and Maddie did outstanding jobs on the wings.”
“Just like in the first game of the tournament we had one bad quarter,” said Ayer coach Joe Scunziano. “You can’t score two points in a quarter and expect to win. We played better in the second half but we continue to struggle shooting the ball. Casey Hardgraves did a nice job off the bench and the girls were excited to play in the tournament.”
Ayer started quickly, building a 6-1 lead with Farrington doing all the scoring on a 15-footer, a follow-up basket and a pair of free throws.
North Middlesex started slowly offensively, but continued to chip away over the remainder of the first quarter. After Ayer’s Sarah Megan put her team on top 10-5 with a 12-footer, the Lady Patriots closed the quarter with an 8-3 run to tie the game at 13-13. Connor came off the bench to ignite things by hitting a pair of 17-footers while Sharp added a perimeter jumper, and Julie Pecukonis converted a steal into a lay-up.
The Lady Patriots upped its defensive intensity in the second quarter, holding Ayer to a single basket. Balassie converted after hauling down an offensive rebound to give North Middlesex a 17-15 lead, and they would never trail again. That fueled a half-closing 11-0 run, which included drives by Sharp and Church, two free throws by Brittney Nelson, and a three-pointer by Connor which made it 26-15 at intermission.
The Lady Panthers climbed back into the game with a strong start in the third quarter. Fillebrown hit a free throw and a three-pointer before a strong drive by Hardgraves (six points, six rebounds) cut the lead to 26-21 and forced a North Middlesex timeout with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Lady Patriots answered out of the stoppage in play with a three-pointer by Kim Morgan, followed by a drive by Sharp to rebuild the lead to double digits at 31-21.
The closest Ayer would get was 33-26, when Megan hit a conventional three-point play after executing a pretty give-and-go with Anna Peck, and also at 37-30 early in the fourth quarter on a follow-up basket by Farrington.
Connor then stuck a dagger into the heart of the Lady Panthers with a long three-pointer. North Middlesex built the lead to 17 with three minutes remaining.
“Tonight we were able to get points from beyond our two post players,” said Murphy. “Playing in this tournament was beneficial for us.”
“We just need to put four good quarters together,” said Scunziano. “That, and we need our shots to start falling.”