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LITTLETON — Ayer Shirley fell 3-0 to its rotary rival, Littleton, Monday night under the lights, but it was not for lack of effort.

First-year Panthers boys soccer head coach Mark Giusto and his team have improved vastly from the first day of practice.

“Our biggest thing was trying to build up our communication,” Giusto said. “We have been doing that every day. It is nice to make a simple play. We have to play to our feet — we are trying not to play that kick and run style that they have been accustomed to.”

Despite the shutout, Ayer Shirley goalkeeper Deven Keady made some outstanding stops (11 saves).

“Deven has really come a long way,” Giusto said. “We have worked with him and his confidence level has gone up tremendously.

He makes some crazy saves in net. At first it was hard getting him to go on the ground after balls, but now he does not mind. He really came up big for us tonight against a very tough Littleton team.”

Littleton netted its first goal midway through the first half on a strike from the left wing by Hayden Gray.

Jon Durban gave the Panthers contingent something to cheer about, as he broke free from a pair of Littleton defenders at the midfield and blasted a shot towards goal, but it sailed just wide of the far post.

The Panthers continued to put pressure on Littleton goalkeeper Dave Tornell, but the senior refused to surrender. Ayer Shirley senior Mike Davis found Shayne Coke with a well-timed throughball inside the 18-yard box. Coke settled the ball at his feet, juked left and blasted a low knuckler at the near post, but Tornell was able to come up with the diving save.

Jack Hambleton added an insurance goal in the 35th minute, as he beat Keady with a beautiful finish off a set piece from the left side to make it 2-0 in favor of Littleton at the half.

Gray tacked on his second goal of the match in the 63rd minute to send the Panthers packing.

With the loss, Ayer Shirley falls to 5-5 in Mid Wach D play and 5-8-1 on the season.

However, the Panthers are not out of the playoff picture.

“We have a couple of seniors who are stepping up for us, but we need to find a way to finish games,” Giusto said. “We are taking it one game at a time.

” We need three wins to qualify, but I am confident. I think we can do it.”

Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout: @EdNiser

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