WEST BOYLSTON — Thursday night’s girls basketball game between Ayer and West Boylston had serious MidWach D ramifications attached to it. West Boylston entered the contest with an 8-1 league record, followed by Ayer at 7-1 and Maynard at 7-2. West Boylston had the ability to clinch the league title by holding serve on its home court, but failed to do it as Ayer overcame a five-point deficit after three quarters to rally to a 49-44 win.
The recent history of the rivalry between the two teams features close and hotly-contested games. This game proved no different than its predecessors as both teams played with the intensity required in a match for high stakes.
“This game was just like I thought it would be,” said Ayer coach Joe Scunziano. “Our rebounding was the difference in the game. We thought we could do things inside tonight and both Brynnan (Farrington) and Amanda (Shaughnessy) were aggressive and active. Plus Katie Poitras came up with some big baskets near the end of the game.”
Both teams struggled mightily offensively in the first quarter, Ayer connecting on three of 11 shots while West Boylston hit on five of 18. Ayer hurt itself with seven first-quarter turnovers, but established a pattern that would hold up throughout the game of dominating the backboards. In the contest, the Lady Panthers owned a 40-22 rebounding edge, including 18 at the offensive end.
Farrington scored three early points, including a free throw to put the Lady Panthers on top 9-8, but WestBoylston scored the final five points of the first quarter on a three-pointer by Kendra Sloan (16 points, three rebounds), and a follow-up basket by Erica Dougherty to give the Lions a 13-9 lead after eight minutes.
After West Boylston committed only two first quarter turnovers, the Lady Panthers’ defense played with more of a sense of urgency in the second quarter, forcing six turnovers. Ayer fought back and tied the game when Casey Hardgraves buried a 17-footer and Shaughnessy (12 points, six rebounds) hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 13-13 and force a West Boylston timeout with 5:41 left in the second quarter.
The remainder of the quarter was close throughout with four lead changes and three ties. Farrington gave the Lady Panthers a 23-20 lead with a strong drive followed by a free throw, before West Boylston’s Amanda McKernan capped the scoring in the first half with a 15-footer and Ayer took a slim 23-22 lead to intermission.
Twice early in the third quarter the Lady Panthers extended the lead to four points on three-pointers by Ally Fillebrown (nine points, two steals) and Sarah Megan (five points, five rebounds, three steals), but West Boylston fought back. The Lions appeared to have taken control of the contest with a 13-2 burst, capped by a three-pointer by Amanda McKernan, that put the home team on top 38-31.
Poitras (six points, four rebounds, two steals) stopped the bleeding with a important 15-footer for the final points of the third quarter, but the Lady Panthers were still facing a five point deficit entering the final eight minutes.
Ayer built off the Poitras jumper and retained the momentum to start the fourth quarter. With an intensified defense that forced the Lions into perimeter jumpers, the Lady Panthers shut out West Boylston for the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. Farrington hit a lay-up and followed with a free throw, before Poitras connected on a mid-range jumper, after taking a pass from Shaughnessy to tie the game at 38-38.
With the West Boylston offense still in cold storage, the Lady Panthers got a short jumper from Shaughnessy and a fast break lay-up from Megan to take a 42-38 lead.
West Boylston broke its long drought, getting a free throw and a lay-up from Magda Mitaszka to climb to within a point, and Ayer called a timeout with 2:30 remaining with the game hanging firmly in the balance.
Shaughnessy, whose hustle and hard work earned her 15 trips to the free-throw line in the contest, made a pair of freebies before another clutch Poitras basket, a 15-footer, provided the Lady Panthers with some breathing room at 46-41 with a minute left.
Sloan, who shot extremely well in the game, provided hope for the Lions when she drained her fourth three-pointer of the game, but those would be West Boylston’s final points, and two Farrington free throws, and one by Fillebrown sealed the deal.
“We received some good free throw shooting at the end,” said Scunziano. “This is a huge win for us and allows us to control our own destiny. We clinched at least a tie for the league championship tonight and we can win it outright with a win over Maynard.”
Farrington was immense inside the paint, finishing with 15 points and 19 rebounds, including eight at the offensive end.