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Ayer-Shirley Girls’ Basketball Dominates in Playoff Opener

AYER – The Ayer-Shirley Regional girls’ basketball team has qualified for the postseason every year that coach Corey Phillips has been at the helm.

After a regular season filled with highs and lows, Phillips and his Panthers are back in the MIAA State Tournament.

The No. 27 ranked Panthers welcomed No. 38 Blackstone-Millville Regional to Washington Street on Monday evening for a preliminary round matchup in the Massachusetts Division 4 Tournament.

The hosts came out on a mission and played one of their best games of the season on Monday. Led by Ava Murphy’s game-high 24 points, the Panthers dominated in a 65-28 victory.

Ayer-Shirley improves to 11-10 overall while Blackstone-Millville finishes its season at 10-11.

Phillips took a few minutes to talk to the Tracker following Monday night’s win.

“We were worried coming in tonight. BMR has a solid young team and they’re going to be really good in the next few years,” said Phillips now in his third season with the Panthers. “I’m a happy proud coach tonight.”

The triumph means the Panthers advance to the Round of 32 where it travels to sixth-seeded Cohasset to battle the Skippers on Friday. Cohasset earned a preliminary round bye.

“We’ll come back to practice on Tuesday and we’ll see the energy from tonight is still there. None of the fans are going to be in the gym when we practice, it’s up to us to these girls to stay up and bring the energy,” said Phillips. “I was able to find a little on Cohasset on YouTube. I was more focused on tonight’s game first but now we’ll spend the next few days getting ready for Cohasset.”

In addition to Murphy’s strong night offensively for the hosts, teammate Tess Arakelian did her part chipping in with 14 points while Emily Churchill also added nine points. Marren Berry led the Chargers with 17 points.

The Panthers left no doubt in this one as the hosts used a suffocating full court press to get off to a lighting fast start. Ayer-Shirley scored 25 of the first 27 points in this one and enjoyed a 25-2 lead late in the first quarter.

The home team held a 27-10 advantage after the first eight minutes.

“Yes, the way they came out, I don’t want to say incredible, but they played together and unified. It was the best they’ve run the press all year,” said Phillips when asked if that was his team’s best start to a game this season. “It’s a hard press to learn and to play against. The rotations and the discipline of moving your feet. It gave them (BMR) a lot of issues tonight.”

The Panthers kept the proverbial paws on the throats of BMR in the second quarter, limiting the Chargers to just five points while outscoring their guests 22-5 to take a commanding 49-15 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Ayer-Shirley showed off some long-distance shooting in the first half as the Panthers hit seven field goals from behind the arc in the opening 16 minutes.

With the game well in hand, Phillips was able to work in his bench during the second half. The Panthers managed only 16 points combined in the third and fourth quarter but the defensive intensity was still there for Ayer-Shirley. The hosts limited BMR to only six field goals in the second half as the Panthers cruised to the victory.

Also playing well for the Panthers on Monday night were Grace Cormier and Lauren Reardon. Both scored seven points and played solid defense for the winners.

Monday marked what could be the final home game in the playing career for Ayer-Shirley’s three seniors as Murphy, Arakelian and Ana Montoya all put on the Panthers home white jersey for the final time. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Montoya did not suit up on Monday due to illness.


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