FITCHBURG – The Ayer-Shirley 16U softball team went down fighting Monday evening.
Battling its way to the North Central Mass. Softball League Semifinals, the fourth-seeded Panthers found themselves matched up with top-seeded Fitchburg.
Ayer-Shirley gave the hosts a battle but, in the end, the Red Raiders proved to be a little too much as Fitchburg punched its ticket to the finals with a 16-7 win at Coolidge Park.
With the win, Fitchburg advances to play the winner of sixth-seeded Lunenburg and third-seeded Ash/West back at Coolidge Park on a date to be determined.
As for Ayer-Shirley, it finishes its season with a 7-6-1.
Panthers head coach Michelle Chilicky spoke with the Ayer-Shirley Tracker after Monday’s ballgame.
“We are proud of the girls and that they were able to get to this point. They were a resilient group. We had a couple of really tough games and some tough losses but they never quit,” said Chilicky of her squad. “We’ve played Fitchburg a couple of times this season and this is the first time we’ve taken them the full seven innings and not ended the game early because of the mercy rule.”
Ayer-Shirley defeated fifth-seeded Gardner on Saturday afternoon at Pirone Park to punch its ticket to Monday’s semifinals. As for Fitchburg (12-0-1 overall), it received a first-round bye.
Getting the start in the circle for the Panthers on Monday was soon-to-be freshman Kelsey Peterson. The Panthers hurler worked the first two innings for the guests before giving way to classmate Isabel Bresnahan, who pitched the next five innings for the tourists from Ayer and Shirley.
The Panthers struck first in the top of the first inning as they plated three runs in the frame, highlighted by a two-run inside-the-park home run from Abbey Hoeske. Bresnahan (3-for-3) also smashed a triple in the frame and later came around to score.
The lead was short-lived however as Fitchburg answered with seven runs in the home half of the first inning to take a 7-3 lead after the first inning.
Ayer-Shirley got a run back in the second inning on an RBI single from Ashley Porter (2-for-2, RBI, HBP) to pull the Panthers to within 7-4 before the hosts tacked on seven more runs in the second and built a 14-4 upper hand after two complete innings.
In the bottom of the third, Bresnahan was brought in to relieve Peterson and the Ayer-Shirley southpaw threw well as she limited Fitchburg to just two runs over the next four innings.
Meanwhile, the Ayer-Shirley offense continued to try to find a way to push runs across Fitchburg starting pitcher Ina Soini.
The Panthers scored two runs in the third inning on a two-run RBI single from Jocelyn Solitro, scoring Hoeske and Bresnahan, who reached earlier in the inning. Solitro’s base hit made it 14-6 Fitchburg. Ayer-Shirley was aided by a pair of Fitchburg errors in the inning.
Trailing 16-7 entering the top of the seventh, the Panthers were down to their final three outs. Unfortunately, for the locals, the team went quietly in the stanza. A strikeout, a ground out to the first base, and a line out to the shortstop retired the side and brought an end to the Panther's season.
“Our goal today was to try and keep it close and while 16-7 doesn’t sound that close, it allowed us to go the distance with a really good Fitchburg team,” said Chilicky. “It’s been a successful season. We’ve had some great performances from many of the girls and they deserve a lot of credit. It’s been a lot of fun to coach them this year.”
Assisting Chilicky this spring is coach Andrew Solitro. The Ayer-Shirley roster includes Ashley Porter, Abbey Hoeske, Kelsey Peterson, Jocelyn Solitro, Lindsey Iannacone, Rylee Carey, Bresnahan, Tessa Lanteigne, Laney Arsenault, Sarah Hendrickson, Alexis Puleo, and Maya Wilcox.