At halftime of a girls basketball game Tuesday against Tawas, Alpena coach Jenny Poli told senior forward Caten Teff that if she could exploit Tawas' defense inside, she'd have a big second half.
Did she ever.
Teff scored 17 second-half points and keyed a big third quarter run for the Wildcats, who held off a late charge from the Braves to pick up a 55-48 win at Alpena High School.
After scoring no points in the first half, Teff scored the first two Alpena baskets of the second half and finished with 12 in the period. Her last basket came on a three-point shot as she was fouled and fell forward as the ball fell into the basket. Her follow-up free throw gave Alpena a 40-23 lead.
"There is just one word to describe Caten, that's a workhorse. She just busts her butt at practice every day," Poli said of Teff. "She's quiet, she does her job and we went down at halftime, I told her 'Caten, if we can get the ball at the high post and you sneak in the back door, you're going to score 10-12 points' and by God she did."
Christina Kollien added 17 points for Alpena (2-2) and hit four key free throws near the end of the first half that put the game squarely in Alpena's favor after a lot of back-and-forth play. In the third quarter, Kollien hit a trey that gave Alpena a 36-23 lead just before Teff's four-point play.
The Wildcats outscored the Braves 21-9 in the third quarter and held a 42-26 lead at the end of the period.
"We definitely had a lot of good teamwork tonight. We started off the game with some solid points," Teff said. "I didn't have any points the first half and in the second half I really just came alive."
Down by 16 points entering the final quarter, Tawas fought back to within four points with 5:13 to play after a 9-0 run, taking advantage of Alpena's man-to-man defense.
The Braves quickly fell behind again though as Alpena switched up its defense and got key baskets from Kollien and Teff that helped run its lead back up to eight points and then 10. Free throws at the end of the game by Kollien and Teff iced the game, ensuring Alpena of its second straight win.
"We just try to encourage the kids to keep fighting. We're down by 16, but with eight minutes to go anything can happen," Tawas coach Todd Kaems said. "We're capable of scoring in little spurts and we did. The ball just seemed to not bounce our way a couple times, it went back to being an eight-point game and we were pretty much done then."
Alpena shot 15-for-20 from the charity stripe for the game.
Olivia Janis led Tawas with 18 points and Ivy Shaaf added 15 points, all on three-pointers. The duo gave the Braves a talented inside-outside combination that frustrated the Wildcats at several points during the game, but couldn't pull Tawas close enough to contend for the lead at the end. The Braves missed several open shots in the final few minutes that hurt their chances to get back into the game.
A couple of quick treys gave the Braves an 8-4 lead in the first quarter, but Alpena got two buckets from Lizzy Trelfa to knot the game at eight after the first eight minutes.
Trelfa joined Teff and Kollien in double figures with 11 points.
The two teams continued to play tight into the second quarter before Alpena hit five free throws in the final two minutes to take a 21-17 lead at halftime.
Alpena plays at Traverse City Central on Friday.
The Alpena JV team picked up its first win of the season, beating Tawas 43-16. Anjelica Patterson led the Wildcats (1-3) with 12 points, Kelsey Udell added eight and Morgan Allen had six.
Alpena's freshmen team improved to 3-0 with a 45-29 win over Tawas. Rachael Barkley and Samantha Szymanski led Alpena with 10 points each and Chloe Ferguson added eight.
ALPENA (55): Talbot 0 0-2 0; Strong 2 0-0 4; Lay 2 0-0 4; Milligan 0 2-2 2; Teff 6 4-5 17; Trelfa 4 3-5 11; Kollien 5 6-6 17.
TAWAS (48): Szosiak 2 1-2 5; Schaaf 5 0-0 15; Janis 8 1-1 18; Sciotti 1 0-2 3; Schmidt 2 1-2 5; Flory 1 0-0 3.