AYER — With five games remaining, the Ayer-Shirley girls basketball team need to win four of them to qualify for post-season play, so Tuesday’s night MidWach D tilt against Maynard qualified as a ‘must-win’ game. Things looked good for the Lady Panthers for much of the game, but Maynard rallied back in the fourth quarter with a flood of free throws to pull out a 45-35 victory.

Ayer-Shirley got good mileage out of a full-court press and a trapping defense, forcing the Tigers into turnovers and making it tough for the visitors to bring the ball up court. But the Lady Panthers neutralized the stingy defense with poor shooting (13-58), weak rebounding (39-28 Maynard advantage), and by sending the Tigers to the free throw line 38 times. The game began to slip away late in the third quarter when Ayer-Shirley committed its seventh foul, allowing Maynard to shoot free throws on every foul the rest of the way.

“We did some nice things with our press and our trap,” said Ayer-Shirley coach Peter Page. “But a stretch late in the third quarter really hurt us when we allowed offensive rebounds, we turned the ball over and we continued to foul them. Our girls played hard but our shot selection was brutal. We have got to learn not to tense up in crunchtime.”

Maynard started quickly establishing a pair of early five-point leads, the second at 7-2 on a drive by Anna Gubala, who finished with eight points, 15 rebounds and three steals.

Ayer-Shirley bounced back when Ally Fillebrown hit a free throw and a three-pointer, and when Josslen Morris finished off a drive, the Lady Panthers led 8-7.

The Lady Panthers led 13-9 after one quarter and a follow-up basket by Anna Peck (six points, six steals) built a six point lead. The teams played on even terms over the remainder of the second quarter and the Lady Panthers took a 21-15 lead to intermission. But while the Ayer-Shirley defense was turning over Maynard (13 in the first half), the Lady Panthers committed 15 turnovers over the first 16 minutes which kept them from extending the advantage.

Things started well for Ayer-Shirley in the third quarter when the defense did a solid job of shutting down Maynard, and a 17-footer by Fillebrown (13 points, four rebounds) and a 15-footer by Gabby Hebert extended the advantage to double digits at 25-15.

But with a chance to land the knockout punch, Ayer-Shirley scored only two points over the rest of the quarter and Maynard crept back into the game with a 10-2 run to make its deficit a more manageable 27-25 entering the fourth quarter. Maynard’s final eight points in the quarter came from the free throw line.

Ashley Christy doubled the lead by opening the fourth quarter by burying a 17-footer, and when Fillebrown hit a free throw Ayer-Shirley led 30-25, but the Tigers put together a decisive 10-0 run, keyed by dominance off the offensive boards. Trailing 30-29, Gubala sandwiched a pair of baskets after hauling down offensive rebounds around a follow-up basket by Anna Magnuson and the Tigers were in command at 35-30 with just under four minutes left.

Morris sliced the lead to three when she connected on a 15-footer, but two free throws by Taylor Kapsimalis (10 points, four rebounds) and a dagger-in-the heart three-pointer by Lauren Lappas put the Tigers in charge at 40-32.

Morris (four rebounds, two steals) and Christy each finished with four points for Ayer-Shirley.