Going different directions

Wildcats fall to Alcona on senior night 2-1

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Alpena’s Lucas Belanger (7) and Alcona’s Justin Smigelski (11) battle for a ball during the first half of a soccer game on Wednesday at Wildcat Stadium.

On a night where the Alpena soccer team honored eight seniors, it was the Alcona Tigers that came away with a big 2-1 victory at Wildcat Stadium on Wednesday in the season finale for both teams as the Tigers and Wildcats seem to be trending in opposite directions with districts just a few days away.

“We knew that Alcona was a quality team and we knew we were in for a dog fight. The thing thing we talked about is to not let their best players beat our best players and unfortunately their best players beat our best players,” Alpena coach Tim Storch said. “We wasted a lot of opportunities and full credit to Alcona, they played very well, but they exposed some of our weaknesses tonight as well and that was a problem.”

The Wildcats controlled the ball much of the first half and jumped out to a 1-0 lead with 16:08 left in the first half when Aidan Day beat Alcona goalkeeper Conner McCoy off of a perfect pass across the middle of the field to put Alpena in front.

Despite controlling much of the first have and having opportunities because of the pressure that they put on the Tigers, Alpena was unable to get another ball past McCoy who came up with several big saves like he has all season.

Alcona weathered the storm and found a way to tie the game up late in the half when the Tigers took the ball end-to-end as Jordan Steiner found the back of the net for the 48th time this season and scored career goal number 136 with 5:41 left in the half to send both teams into the break tied at one.

“We made a statement tonight and it was a good game. We played really hard and these kids play really well,” Alcona coach Tim Munro said. “We are trending in the right direction heading into districts on Monday and tonight was a big win for us. We’ve played strong competition all year and I definitely think that it’s going to help us, but we also have some more tough teams coming up.”

The Tigers carried the momentum they gained late in the first half and opened the second half with a goal less than seven minutes in to take a 2-1 lead and one they would eventually hang on to when Brett Nelson outran a pair of Wildcat defenders and controlled a ball that went over Alpena keeper Lawson Labean who charged and slid to make a stop, but Nelson gained possession and put a shot on a wide open net for the go ahead goal.

“We have a ton of momentum now because we came in and knocked off a Division I team in their place and we’ve been riding a nice win streak and have only one loss in the regular season not counting tournament play,” Steiner said.

One of the biggest plays of the game game with 27:07 left as the Wildcats trailed by a goal and Day was awarded a penalty kick with a chance to tie the game back up, but McCoy made another huge save to deny Day and preserve the one goal lead.

Alcona began to send the ball down field when the Wildcats made a push to try to net the tying goal and the strategy worked as Alpena had a tough time getting a clean look the rest of the night.

The final chances for Alpena came with a minute left to play as they had two corner kick opportunities, but the first chance was again sent the length of the field by the Tigers and the final opportunity came with 15 seconds left, but Alcona was able to get enough traffic in front of the net to deflect a ball out of bounds as the final seconds ran off the clock and the Tigers celebrated a big victory.

Alcona finishes the regular season with a 13-6-3 overall record and will host Fairview in a district quarterfinal game on Monday.

The Wildcats finish 10-11-1 and will have a tall task ahead of them as they host Traverse City Central in a first round district matchup on Tuesday.