Learning the hard way

News Photo by James Andersen Alpena’s Kourtney Jones, right, looks to pass to a teammate while being defended by Kayla Wilhelms during the first half of a girls basketball game on Wednesday at Alpena High School.

It didn’t seem to matter what the Alpena girls basketball team did on Wednesday.

Sault Ste. Marie did it better.

Where the Wildcats missed shots, the Blue Devils were there to snag rebounds.

Where Alpena missed clean looks at the basket, the Blue Devils made their shots from a variety of spots on the floor.

Where Alpena lagged defensively late in the game, the Blue Devils kept up their intensity, forcing turnovers and scoring points in transition.

Ultimately it spelled doom for the Wildcats, who lost to the Blue Devils 55-25 at Alpena High School.

Alpena (1-2) kept things close early, despite some struggles on the offensive end. But the Blue Devils controlled the game in the second half, giving the Wildcats little chance to contend.

“(We learned) that you can’t give up and you can’t sit back,” Alpena coach Erin Andrews said. “You have to get after it for 32 minutes and that if you take one quarter off that can really really hurt you.”

Alpena trailed 24-16 at halftime and was outscored 19-3 in the third quarter. Jade Shultz’s basket with 45 seconds left ended a nearly eight-minute scoring drought for Alpena as the Wildcats couldn’t find a groove after halftime.

On the other end, Sault continued to attack the basket and scored from all over the floor. The Blue Devils pushed the ball inside, hit some shots from the three-point line and scored a number of second chance points by controlling the boards. After three quarters, Sault led 43-19.

Ashtyn Bell led Sault with 13 points and Julia Beaumont and Kayla Wilhelms each added eight.

The Blue Devils led from buzzer to buzzer despite battling some early foul trouble. Sault was whistled eight times in the first quarter, but still found enough offense to lead 14-9 after eight minutes.

Alpena got a number of good looks at the basket, but couldn’t knock down shots at key times. Alpena trailed by as many as 10 in the second quarter and couldn’t score consistently enough to keep up with the Blue Devils.

“We took it to the rim a lot more, we got better shots, we got better looks at the basket. Defensively in the first two quarters, I thought we played really well,” Andrews said. “I knew we’d go through some ups-and-downs just because I’ve changed everything that they’ve done.”

Emma Jore paced Alpena with eight points and Shultz and Maddie Voltz each added six.

Alpena has a quick turnaround as it hosts Gaylord on Friday. After falling in their conference opener last week, the Wildcats are looking for better results as competing in conference play remains one of their biggest goals for the year.

“We told the seniors they have 17 games left and we have to decide what it is that we want for our goal. Is it to come out compete? Is it to win the Big North? Is it to come and hang out?,” Andrews said. “We have to decide and I think the consensus was we want to compete in the Big North.”

Sault defeated Alpena’s JV team 51-22. Alysa Funk led Alpena with eight points and Abigail Funk added five.

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SAULT STE. MARIE (55): M. Kalchik 3 0-0 6; A. Andary 1 0-3 3; V. Nagy 3 0-0 7; V. Gage 1 3-4 5; K. Wilhems 3 0-0 8; A. Bell 6 0-0 13; A. Kaunisto 3 0-0 6; J. Beaumont 1 6-7 8.

ALPENA (25): M. Girard 0 0-2 0; T. Tolsdorf 0 0-2 0; J. Shultz 3 0-3 6; M. Voltz 3 0-0 6; E. Jore 3 1-3 8; D. Prevo 1 3-5 5.