SHIRLEY – The Ayer-Shirley Regional boys’ basketball team left little doubt on Monday afternoon. The Panthers kicked off their journey into the Massachusetts Division 5 Tournament when it welcomed Smith Academy of Hatfield to the Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School Gym for a preliminary round contest. The host Panthers dominated for 32 minutes as it cruised to a 77-44 victory. With the win, the No.27 seeded Panthers (13-8) advance to the Round of 32 where it will hit the road and travel to sixth-seeded Westport (13-7 overall) on Thursday evening. As for the No. 38 Falcons, they finish their season at 13-8 overall. Panthers head coach Rick Kilpatrick spoke with the Ayer-Shirley Tracker following Monday’s victory. “I’m thrilled with what I saw out of my guys tonight. We wanted to try and pressure them and force a lot of turnovers but we didn’t create a lot of turnovers but man, did we execute extremely well in the half-court game,” said the Panthers head coach. “Offensively, we did a really good job attacking their zone defense.” Ayer-Shirley balanced the offensive firepower on Monday as it had four players finish in double figures. Pacing the offense for the winners on Monday was Zach Iannacone with 21 points. Teammate Cam Marshall added 18 points and Brian Holmes tossed in 15 points for the winners. The Falcons were led by Riley Intrator with a team-high 14 points. The Panthers wasted little time jumping out in this one. Ayer-Shirley attacked Smith Academy’s zone defense and ran the floor exceptionally well in transition as the hosts opened a 14-6 lead after the first four minutes. The Panthers stretched the advantage to 24-12 after one quarter and showed no signs of letting up in the second quarter as they added to their lead. Ayer-Shirley carried a 40-24 upper hand into the locker room at halftime. “We came in with a plan. We wanted to attack the glass and get the ball inside,” said Kilpatrick. “From the very first minute, our guys executed exceptionally well.” The hosts refused to let up in the final 16 minutes as it continued to play an aggressive, in-your-face style defense in the second half that gave the guests from Western Massachusetts all kinds of fits. In the third quarter, Ayer-Shirley was able to stretch its lead even further and the Panthers had things well in hand by the end of the stanza as they held a 56-36 lead after three quarters. Holmes, spoke with the Tracker about his team’s performance on Monday and what lies ahead. “We didn’t know much about this team coming in, we saw a little bit of film on them and knew they had a couple of shooters. They have a good team but we came out here and played well and executed the game plan,” said Holmes. “We don’t know much about Westport but we’re ready to step up and take on the challenge.” Holmes, who became the school’s most recent member of the 1,000-career point club earlier this season, shared his thoughts on reaching the milestone and what it means to him. “I don’t like to focus on the stats that much but I think the guys around me deserve a lot of the credit,” said Holmes, who is still undecided on his plans after high school. “Being the scorer is nice but it's those teammates working hard in the trenches that are really important. Without the help of my teammates and coaches, I wouldn’t have been able to get here.” Not to be overlooked, the Ayer-Shirley Regional girls’ basketball team also qualified for the Massachusetts Division 5 Tournament. The Panthers enter the tournament as the No. 11 seed with a 16-4 overall record. Ayer-Shirley will host No. 22 South Shore Regional Vocational (16-4 overall) on Friday at the Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School in the Round of 32. The winner of Friday’s contest will also earn a trip to Westport to take on the sixth-seeded Wildcats on a date to be determined.
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