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Ayer-Shirley Girls’ Basketball Looks to Turn Things Around After Tough Start

GARDNER – Things will only go up for the Ayer-Shirley Regional girls’ basketball team.

After dropping a 40-36 decision on Thursday afternoon to the Eagles of Advanced Math and Science Academy, the Panthers dropped to 1-5 overall on the season.

Third year Panthers head coach Corey Phillips and his squad have opened the season against some of the top programs in the area.

“We have had a tough stretch to open the season. We have six games before the Christmas break,” said Phillips now in his third year. “We are struggling right now but I think long term, we are going to be in it. I tell the girls, we will be in it if we can stay mentally where we need to be and that will be the question.

Prior to Thursday’s defeat, Ayer-Shirley visited the Wildcats of Gardner High School on Tuesday, December 19 and fell 43-30 at LaChance Gym.

Pacing the Panthers on Tuesday night against the Wildcats was junior Emily Churchill with a team high 13 points. Classmate Lauren Reardon contributed eight points and senior Tess Arakelian chipped in with five points for Ayer-Shirley.

The Panthers are learning to adjust to life without last year’s lone senior and captain Maddie Davis. Last winter, Davis led a Panthers squad that finished the regular season as co-Mid Wach D League champions with West Boylston. Ayer-Shirley advanced to the Massachusetts Division 4 Tournament where it fell to Westport in the Round of 16 to finish the season at 17-5.

If losing Davis wasn’t enough, Phillips and his coaching staff took another hit when senior Ava Murphy, a key ingredient to the Panthers success suffered a knee injury during the offseason. Her return date is still undetermined however Phillips is optimistic she will be back close to the new year.

“Even though we have veterans, we are still trying to replace starters from last year like Maddie Davis. These girls must learn how to fill that role and be that type of player,” said Phillips. “This is where we’re at right now. As for tonight, against Gardner, we struggled offensively in the second which we’ve done all season but I thought things opened up in the second half and it was our game.”

After opening the season with a loss against Lunenburg in the Bud Tacket Memorial Tournament at Monty Tech, the Panthers secured their only victory of the new season in the consolation game of the Tackett Tournament against Monty Tech. Phillip’s crew followed the victory with losses to Littleton, West Boylston and Gardner before Thursday’s setback.

“The teams we are playing don’t care about how tough our schedule is to start the season. Gardner doesn’t care, Littleton didn’t care, West Boylston didn’t care and AMSA didn’t care,” said Phillips, who is assisted by coach Greg Patient. “Coming into the start of the season, there was that uncertainty of not knowing what to expect. As much as I thought we could be 0-6 I also thought we could have been 5-1.”

One of the areas the Panthers head coach is looking for a little extra push is the offensive end of the floor. Through five games, the Panthers are averaging just over 33 points a game (33.2) while surrendering 47 points per game (47.7)

Getting Murphy back will certainly help add some offensive firepower and take some of the offensive pressure off returning varsity players like Churchill, Arakelian, Reardon, Grace Cormier and Maleah Figueroa.

Phillips’ crew with have some important practice time to prepare for their next game on January 3 when the team hosts Oakmont Regional at the Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School before visiting Tahanto Regional on January 5.


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