WARREN — In recent history, a trip to Warren to face the Quaboag girls basketball team in post-season play has been Central Massachusetts’ version of walking the plank. Many District and state championship teams have played out of the school’s outstanding facility and more often than not the road to the Central Massachusetts Division 3 championship has gone through Quaboag.
But on Tuesday night when the Ayer girls basketball team made the long journey, the game was up for grabs. In the end the Lady Panthers couldn’t overcome a lethal set of numbers (35 turnovers, 30 shot attempts) and suffered a disappointing 35-23 defeat.
Quaboag was hardly outstanding in the contest, hitting only 13 of 49 shots (27 percent) and being on the short end of a 32-28 count off the boards, but Ayer shot itself in the foot from first whistle to last with an inability to protect the ball. The Cougars did just enough to survive and advance into a meeting against top-seeded Hopedale.
“This was a winnable game, but 35 turnovers and 30 shots tells the story,” said Ayer coach Joe Scunziano. “There is no way you can win a game when that happens.”
The first half was an exercise in frustration as Quaboag couldn’t make a shot (5-27) and Ayer had trouble getting shots (18 turnovers). Ayer took a 7-1 lead on a lay-up by Brynnan Farrington after a pass from Ally Fillebrown, a Farrington free throw, and a follow-up basket and two free throws by Amanda Shaughnessy.
Quaboag finally was able to get its offense going, drawing to within 7-6 on a three-pointer by Jill Lavallee (nine points, five rebounds, three steals), and a short jumper by Sam McCann (14 points, six rebounds, four steals).
Farrington capped the scoring in the quarter by finishing off a drive to give the Lady Panthers a 9-6 advantage after eight minutes.
Ayer was able to score just two points in the second quarter, a 15-footer by Fillebrown, but amazingly still held an 11-8 lead with three minutes remaining in the half. But the Cougars finished strongly and latched on to the momentum when Brittany Herring hit a short jumper and a lay-up, and McCann added a short jumper to put Quaboag on top 14-11 at halftime.
Any thoughts of a comeback by the Lady Panthers were dashed by a turnover-plagued third quarter, which saw Ayer turn the ball over 13 times.
Quaboag took advantage, creating breathing room early by scoring five consecutive points to build the lead to 19-11with five minutes left in the third quarter.
Sarah Megan cut the lead to 19-13 when she hit a 10-footer, but Quaboag put the game out of reach by finishing the quarter with a 10-4 run to build a 29-17 advantage entering the fourth quarter.
Twice Ayer was able to draw to within nine points in the fourth quarter, the final time at 31-22 on a free throw by Shaughnessy, but that was as close as the Lady Panthers would get.
Farrington led Ayer with seven points and 12 rebounds while Shaughnessy added five points and eight rebounds. Fillebrown chipped in with four points.
“Brynnan played a strong first half for us,” said Scunziano. “Sarah Megan started every game in the past four years and Katie Poitras played in every game. This is a great group of girls that has been together as long as I have coached, and I will miss the seniors.”
Jordan Loughlin finished with five points, five rebounds and three steals for the Cougars, who made 18 steals in the contest. Herring chipped in with five points off the bench.