Going down fighting

For the first time in seven years, the Alpena boys basketball team is headed home early.

Despite a rally in the third quarter, the Wildcats had trouble keeping up with Gaylord down the stretch and lost to the Blue Devils 58-45 in a Class A district quarterfinal on Monday.

The win moves Gaylord to a district semifinal matchup with Petoskey on Wednesday and marks the first time since 2009 that the Wildcats lost their opening postseason game.

Alpena trailed 40-34 after three quarters, but Gaylord opened the fourth quarter by outscoring the Wildcats 9-2-including sinking their first three shots- for a 49-36 lead with 6:18 left.

It didn’t guarantee victory for the Blue Devils (12-9), but it gave them enough cushion to maintain a comfortable lead the rest of the way. It was short offensive bursts like these that the Wildcats had trouble coming back from.

“I thought our kids played really hard tonight. I thought we competed and multiple times in the game we got down (by) seven (or) 10 points and kept fighting back,” Alpena coach John Pintar said. “Ultimately we just couldn’t get shots to fall tonight. I thought we had some good looks, we just needed someone to get hot offensively inside and it just never happened.”

Alpena cut the lead to 49-41 with just over five minutes left, but the Wildcats (5-16) struggled offensively in the remaining time, scoring just four points.

Gaylord led 26-19 at halftime and pushed its lead to 31-19 with seven minutes left in the third quarter before Alpena caught fire. After Nick Skiba and Cam DeCaire hit shots, Dylan Tucker and Chris DeRocher followed with borderline three-pointers to cut the lead to four.

DeCaire then made three of four three throws on consecutive trips to the charity stripe to make it 31-30 with 3:06 left.

“Our kids never gave up tonight. I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Pintar said. “The last few games we haven’t competed for four quarters, we got down on ourselves and tonight we refused to give up. I thought we get to the tipping point, but we couldn’t manage to find that key shot here or there.”

After a timeout, the Blue Devils pushed their lead back out to 37-30, thanks in part to a pair of short jumpers from Michael Dipzinski.

Dipzinski finished with 13 points and Joshua DeGraw led the Blue Devils with 15 points. Jalovon Pryor-McCovery also reached double figures, finishing with 13.

Tucker paced Alpena with 10 points and DeRocher added nine. DeCaire and Bruz Copping, a freshman playing in his first varsity game, each had seven.

Gaylord held a 7-2 lead early in the first quarter, but after eight minutes Alpena led 10-9. The Blue Devils fought back in the second quarter, outscoring Alpena 17-9 to take the lead into the break.

Monday’s game marked the final game for Alpena seniors Skiba and Tucker and Pintar praised their efforts after the game as well as the work of his entire team. The roster for Monday’s roster included six underclassmen and despite the loss, Pintar saw some encouraging signs for the future.

“It’s disappointing. You get to this point in the year and you want to win. This is what you work all year for and unfortunately we came up a little short,” Pintar said. “I thought our kids played hard and they competed. That’s what you can look positive at.”

Box Score (Field goals made, free throws made-free throws attempted, total points)

GAYLORD (58): M. Dipzinski 4 2-2 13; J. DeGraw 6 3-4 15; J. Freeman 2 2-2 8; B. Charboneau 2 3-6 7; J. Pryor-McCovery 6 0-0 13; J. Gapinski 1 0-0 2.

ALPENA (45): N. Skiba 3 0-0 6; I. Jore 1 0-0 2; J. Lucas 1 0-0 2; B. Copping 3 0-0 7; C. DeCaire 2 3-4 7; C. DeRocher 4 0-0 9; D. Tucker 4 0-0 10; A. Bell 1 0-0 2.

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.