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BOYLSTON — After opening the season at 7-1, the Ayer Shirley girls’ soccer team has fallen on some tough times.

The Panthers traveled to Boylston Monday afternoon to face the 1-5 Tahanto Stags in a critical Mid Wach D contest.

Ayer Shirley, despite strong play from senior striker Cass Manna and junior Cayla Justice, failed to score. The Panthers and Stags played to a 0-0 draw.

The tie marks the second straight for the Panthers, who tied with Parker Charter at home on Friday.

“We started the season on a hot-streak, but now we are looking for some different girls to step-up in different positions,” Ayer Shirley head coach Justin Carlson said. “We had a lot of chances in the second half, but we just could not cash in. I think that is the difference between us getting out of here with a tie, rather than a win.”

Ayer Shirley held a distinct 10-5 shots-on-goal advantage, but it could not break through the strong Tahanto defense at the midfield.

The Panthers first chance of the match came in the 15th minute, when Manna found a hole down the right side of the pitch. Manna reversed direction, catching the Tahanto defender off balance, before blasting a shot that narrowly missed its mark and soared over the crossbar.

The Panthers controlled possession for much of the first half, but showed difficulty keeping the Tahanto defense on its heels long enough to get off a quality shot. Justice took a go at goal in the 34th minute, but the Tahanto defense sucked her in deep along the end line, which forced the junior’s shot to harmlessly soar into the right side of the goal.

Ayer Shirley senior captain Olivia Warila had the best chance of the match to score, as she had the Tahanto keeper beat. Warila took too hard a second touch on the ball and sent it whaling over the crossbar for a goal kick.

Manna made her final run of the first half at goal in the 40th minute, but her shot drifted wide right and clanged off the post.

“On a positive note, the tie moves us one step closer to districts,” Carlson said. “With a win on Wednesday, we will have qualified for the tournament. From a standpoint of competing for the league title, it will make things a bit more difficult for us. We need that win at Maynard a lot more now, but the unsettling thing is that we are going to need some help from other teams.”

Carlson credited his backline for its steady play in the draw.

“Our goalkeeper, Natalie Carroll, was not really tested today,” Carlson said. “Our defense really buckled down and fended off the Tahanto attacks to at least give us a 0-0 result. It was a good all-around effort from the girls today. Unfortunately, sometimes you have good scoring chances, but the match just does not end the way you want it to.”

Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout: @EdNiser.

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