The Alpena boys basketball team would seem to have an advantage tonight against Sault Ste. Marie, having already beaten the Blue Devils twice this season.
Alpena coach John Pintar knows better.
Given the one-and-done nature of the postseason, Alpena's first two victories over the Blue Devils don't mean much in the overall scheme of things. It's all about winning now.
"The bottom line is that it's in the past and you might have beaten them once or twice, but it doesn't matter if you lost or tied the first two games," Pintar said. "Whether it's Cadillac, Petoskey or Sault, it's all about what we do."
The two teams will meet at 7 p.m. tonight at Alpena High School in a Class A district semifinal. The winner advances to Friday's district final against either Marquette or Traverse City Central.
Alpena (17-4) topped Sault 72-65 in its season opener and added a second victory against the Blue Devils (12-7) a few weeks ago, beating them 65-57. Having won their last nine games in a row, including Monday's district win over Gaylord, the Wildcats are gelling at the right time and are surely feeling good about their chances tonight.
Class A district semifinal
Alpena High School
The Wildcats will also benefit from having a full lineup. Sophomore guard Tyler Pintar returned to the lineup on Monday wearing a mask to help protect his broken nose and his impact was immediate. He dished the ball to teammates all over the floor and chipped in offensively with nine points.
"You see a jump in our offense. He has the ball in his hands a lot and does a lot in transition," Pintar said of Tyler. "Guards are important to any offense, but everybody knows their spot."
Senior forward Kam Fitzek will also be back in the Wildcats' lineup.
Alpena showed its offensive versatility against Gaylord, getting the ball inside to Luke Cordes and Andy Marwede, but also shooting well from outside as evidenced by four triples from Marwede, jumpers from Cordes and pinpoint shots from Pintar, Jake Kendziorski among others.
Despite having a multitude of offensive weapons, Pintar believes defense will be the key to victory tonight. Among the Wildcats' chief concerns is stopping Sault senior Ray'Shon Anderson who's topped 20 points in both head-to-head matchups this season. Kyle Root also provides a scoring punch for the Blue Devils as well and is coming off a career-high 30 points last week in a loss to Gaylord.
Sault has taken some tough losses this season, including losses to Pickford, St. Ignace and Gaylord, but the Blue Devils earned a share of the Straits Area Conference title and also topped Marquette on the road in January.
"Sault's a dangerous team. They have a lot of offensive weapons, which makes it hard to defend them," Pintar said. "It's about getting stops on the defensive end. If we can slow them down it gives us a better chance."