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SHIRLEY — Getting off to a strong start doesn’t always ensure success, but it can get an opponent back on its heels. Visiting Lancaster opened up a seven-point first quarter lead and never trailed, forcing Ayer-Shirley to play catch-up throughout, en route to a 46-39 win in middle school boys basketball action. The Lancers were never able to land a knockout punch in the game, and were forced to repel Ayer-Shirley rallies, but always seemed to have the answer when required.

Lancaster was aggressive at both ends of the court, owning a 48-37 rebounding advantage in the contest, complementing that with 12 steals.

Drew Schartner led the Lancers with 15 points and 13 rebounds, joined in double figures by teammate Ian Hart, who finished with 12 points, three rebounds and three steals.

Ryan Harding paced Ayer-Shirley with 11 points, all in the second half, to go along with three rebounds and two steals.

After Brian Heffernan (eight points, five rebounds) scored the first points of the game on a pair of free throws, Ayer-Shirley’s Alex Walker tied the game by finishing off a drive.

Lancaster used aggressiveness at both ends of the court, getting points from a harassing defense that got the Lancers’ transition game into gear as the visitors took charge over the remainder of the first quarter.

Schartner put the Lancers on top for good with a drive, fueling a quarter-closing 10-3 burst that gave Lancaster a 12-5 advantage after one quarter.

The visitors appeared poised to blow Ayer-Shirley out of the gym when Kyle Wood (six points, 17 rebounds) hit a 15-footer and Tony Kennon finished off a fast break with a lay-up to extend the lead to 16-5. Later in the quarter, Schartner’s 15-footer gave Lancaster its largest lead at 20-7.

Ayer-Shirley bounced right back, showing increased energy at both ends, finishing the first half with a closing run of 9-4. Zachary Connell capped the run with a pair of free throws to make it 24-16 at intermission. Kevin Lewis, who finished with six points and three rebounds, was the catalyst of the burst with a lay-up and a pair of free throws.

Keyed by the play of Schartner, the Lancers scored six of the first eight points in the second half to build a 30-18 lead.

Ayer-Shirley tightened up defensively and clawed back into the game. Jonathan Durben (six points, two rebounds) hit a pair of free throws, Daniel Goldstein converted a steal into a lay-up, Luther Salmon came up with a steal and finished it off with a lay-up, before a free throw by Salmon made it 30-25.

Lancaster gained some important breathing room by finishing the quarter with the final six points, capped by a fast break lay-up by Wood that sent the visitors to the fourth quarter on top 36-25. The Lancers were strong off the boards and created second-chance opportunities with hard work at the offensive end.

The Lancers appeared to have put the game out of reach when Schartner scored after grabbing an offensive rebound to make it 42-30 with four minutes remaining, but Ayer-Shirley never stopped fighting and chipped away, keyed by strong work by Harding, who finished off a drive, converted a steal into a lay-up, and buried a 17-footer to cut the lead to 44-39.

Chris Patano worked hard for Ayer-Shirley, hauling down six rebounds, while Goldstein (two points, three rebounds), and John Gendron each made two steals.

Kennon scored four points to go along with seven rebounds and three steals for Lancaster.