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Down to the wire

Wildcats play to tie with Gaylord in physical BNC game

News Photo by James Andersen Alpena’s Alexis Pilarski, right, battles for control of the ball with Gaylord’s Brynne Giallombardo during the first half of a girls soccer game on Thursday at Wildcat Stadium. The two teams played to a 2-2 tie.

Three weeks ago, the Alpena High girls soccer team earned a monumental win after beating Gaylord on the road 2-1.

The Wildcats had an impressive encore against the Blue Devils on Thursday and though they didn’t win, they turned in another solid performance against a conference opponent.

Gaylord scored on a high, arcing shot with 9:06 left, cementing a 2-2 tie for both teams at Wildcat Stadium during a physical Big North Conference game.

Anna Young and Mollie Girard each scored a goal for the Wildcats (9-5-2, 3-3-2 BNC), who led two different times on Thursday, but couldn’t keep the Blue Devils out of the back of the net as time wound down.

“They were able to match us shot for shot and tackle and tackle,” Storch said. “Credit to them, we had the lead twice and both times they came back.”

Indeed the two teams matched each other goals and nearly did the same for shots on net. Gaylord finished with seven shots to Alpena’s six.

Both teams had chances in the final minutes, but couldn’t convert. Gaylord put the ball on net with a pair of long throw-ins and a corner kick within the last five minutes, but came up empty.

Alpena put a shot on net with about 44 seconds left and got it to bounce in front of the net, but Gaylord’s keeper got a handle on it and kicked it away.

Gaylord held a 5-3 advantage in shots on goal at halftime as both teams were tied 1-1. But it was Alpena who found itself ahead early in the second half when Girard sent a frozen rope to the back of net with 25:16 left. The goal was her eighth of the season and came off a set play on a free kick.

“It’s exactly a play that we run. Mollie’s got a phenomenal shot; when she keeps it on frame, it’s difficult for any goal keeper to handle,” Storch said. “She’s got our best shot on the team bar none.”

Alpena keeper Alex Villarreal played a strong game in net for Alpena and made several big stops to hold Gaylord off in the second half. After Vayda Voss missed high on a curving free kick with 22:35 left, Villarreal stopped Sydney Kaiser straight on with 21:12 remaining.

She also stopped Gaylord striker Becca Ross on a shot late in the first half and turned aside a redirection on a corner kick from Caralee Courtright in the game’s opening minutes.

“Alex Villarreal played very well in goal,” Storch said. “Alex was equal to the task and had a really big night for us.”

The Wildcats surprised Gaylord on the way to last month’s win. They got an early shot of momentum in their quest to do it again after Young scored less than four minutes into the game. Gaylord’s keeper came out too far to play the ball and Young got a foot on it for the goal.

The Blue Devils weren’t stopped for long though. Villarreal turned aside a redirection on a corner kick barely a minute later, another shot hit the post and Gaylord finally scored when Ross redirected a corner kick with a header on 30:21 left.

Storch was pleased to see his team have another positive result against Gaylord following a win in April and a tie with the Blue Devils last year. In all of its Big North games, Alpena has either held the lead or been tied at halftime and Storch was glad to see his team hold its own, especially in a game with a high degree of physical play.

“I do (like the physical play) because for years we the nail and the other team was always the hammer. I’ve always told them that they’ve got to measure and not always be the hammer, but not be the nail,” Storch said. “Tonight it was give-and-take, both teams were playing physical.”

Alpena returns to action on Saturday when it hosts its annual Sunrise Side Soccer Challenge Cup Tournament.