By Ed Niser

AYER — Ayer Shirley (9-9-1) hosted Keefe Tech in the opening round of the Division 4 Central Mass playoffs Friday afternoon. The Panthers carried play for much of the first half, but the Broncos tallied the only marker of the match in the 24th minute.

Keefe Tech striker Jonathan Morporyan took advantage of a rebound chance and tipped it home for the eventual game-winner, as the Broncos topped Ayer Shirley, 1-0

Ayer Shirley senior goalkeeper Jarrod Oberg was outstanding in net stopping nine shots in the losing effort.

“Oberg is only a second-year goalie,” said Ayer Shirley head coach Mark Giusto. “He is a great guy. He has never missed a practice and he works his tail off. It’s his second year playing and he is a first-year captain and a Central Mass All-Star. He absolutely kept us in it.”

Giusto gives the Panthers boys’ soccer program, a sense of stability.

“Over the last couple of years, we have worked on more of the possession-based game rather than the kick-and-run,” said Giusto. “I think the guys have improved immensely over the course of the season. The main thing is that we will get kids who will work til’ their feet are bleeding and run through walls for you. We have kids that will not quit.”

Ayer Shirley senior co-captain Jeffrey Gendron ran a nice line to the goal in the 26th minute. Gendron broke free down the middle of the pitch, but he had to leap to avoid contact with Keefe Tech goalkeeper Massimo Albino.

Albino came off his line to slide and scoop up the ball before Gendron could register a shot. Late in the first half, Keefe Tech forward Yeison Rodriguez struck a curling shot from just inside the 18-yard box, but Oberg was up for the challenge. Oberg ranged to his tight to make the diving save to keep the Broncos’ advantage at one.

In the 37th minute, Rodriguez had another strong shot turned aside by Oberg. The senior continued to make save after save to keep his team within striking distance.

Ayer Shirley had a chance to equalize when Ben Hebert slipped through and put a shot on net, but a Keefe Tech player emerged from the traffic in the front of the net to clear the ball out of danger in the 54th minute.

Giusto has the Panthers program on an upward trajectory with its success in 2016.

“They had four different coaches before I got here,” said GIusto. “We are definitely going in the right direction. The first year we had five, the next year we moved up to six wins and now we have nine. We are definitely working and playing up with games against North Middlesex and Lunenburg. We are trying to get the kids to work harder and believe in themselves.”