AYER — The Panthers’ boys soccer program has come a long way since the start of the season with its fourth coach in as many years.
First year Ayer Shirley head coach Mark Giusto has not only helped the Panthers double its win total from a year ago, he has helped restore pride in the program.
Still, the team was unable to hold off unbeaten Oakmont Monday afternoon, as the Spartans edged the hosts 3-1 on senior day.
Oakmont held a 14-5 shot advantage in the match.
“It’s hard to keep some of the boys motivated because we are not playing for anything at this point in the season,” Giusto said. “I thought we worked hard and played a very physical brand of soccer today. It helps us with our lack of technical ability. We played hard, but the guys kept it clean. That’s really all I can ask of them.”
Oakmont struck just eight seconds into the match on a sniper shot from the left wing by forward Cody Bates.
Bates won the ball at the midfield on the opening draw, drifted down the field and slammed it past first year Ayer Shirley senior keeper Deven Keady to make it 1-1.
The Panthers’ scoring chances were limited in the opening frame.
Ayer Shirley senior midfielder John Gendron left the game midway through the first half with an apparent ankle injury. But the gritty veteran received the go-ahead from Giusto to return to the game.
And, lucky for the Panthers, he came back with the same intensity.
Gendron, who was noticeably hampered by the ankle injury, made the most of a turnover in the Oakmont defensive third. He went up for a 50-50 ball and collided with Oakmont keeper Pat Porpora, flicking it into the back of the net with 18 seconds remaining in the first half.
“I am sure that when Gendron went up for that header and showed hesitation that getting injured earlier in the match was on his mind,” Giusto said. “But when he saw the opportunity, he didn’t back down. He is great in the air, and he puts it down. I am going to miss coaching him in soccer, but I do have him in basketball season.”
Oakmont potted a pair of highlight reel goals off set pieces in the 57th and 76th minute. Left back David Quaye chipped a direct free kick from the left side into the swirling wind and it snuck over the shoulder of Keady to make it 2-1. The second goal was scored off a corner kick by forward Brett Smith, who whirled it inside the near post to round out the scoring.
“The kids really played hard,” Giusto said. “The final two of those goals were nasty. There was no way those were going to be stopped. Credit to Oakmont, they’re a quality team.”
Ayer Shirley rounded out its schedule with a match at Maynard Wednesday (result unavailable at publication), and it wraps up the season at Narragansett Wednesday.
Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout: @EdNiser.