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Wildcats tie Harbor Springs in season opener

News Photo by James Andersen Alpena’s Mike Clark (right) dribbles past a Harbor Springs defender during the first half of a boys soccer game on Thursday at Park Family Field at Wildcat Stadium. The Wildcats played to a 1-1 tie with the Rams in their 2020 season opener.

The Alpena High boys soccer team took the good with the bad on Thursday.

The good: The Wildcats didn’t lose their season opener, playing to a 1-1 tie with Harbor Springs at Park Family Field at Wildcat Stadium.

The bad: Alpena had an up-and-down game and couldn’t convert on several offensive chances late that would have allowed it to walk away the victor.

But all teams have to start somewhere and the Wildcats finally got a chance to show what they could do in live game action after several weeks of practices.

“(It was) kind of a mixed bag. This is a team that we mercied last year, but we also graduated 11 starters, so there’s only four players back from that team,” Alpena coach Tim Storch said. “This is a completely different team.”

Abe Brege scored for Alpena (0-0-1) on an assist from Austin Townsend just 4:01 into the second half, tying the game 1-1. Alpena finished the game with more than a dozen shots on goal, but only managed to slip one past Harbor Springs keeper Norm Cameron.

Cameron, a senior, kept the Wildcats on their toes all night, making several late-game stops at point-blank range. He deflected a high, arching shot with 3:30 left in the contest and then made a diving grab about 30 seconds later.

“He made some great saves. You get a keeper like that, he’s going to steal results from you and he did a great job,” Storch said of Cameron.

Junior Evan Schwab gave Harbor Springs the lead just before halftime, converting on a penalty kick with six seconds left in the opening frame.

Alpena keeper Matt Diamond fended off several charges from the Rams Thursday, including a point-blank, 1-on-1 chance with about nine minutes left. Harbor Springs also came empty about nine minutes earlier when they got an open net after Diamond came out to play the ball. In the ensuing seconds however, the Rams failed to get a shot off.

Both teams had a few chances in the first half, but Schwab’s shot was the only one to find the mark. After graduating 11 players from a team that set a new program record for wins and came within a win of a district championship, Storch knows the Wildcats have some tough roads ahead. Still, he was pleased to get a look at what his 2020 team looks like and noted that the Wildcats didn’t lose.

“I knew we’d have a lot of growing pains and I felt coming in that we needed to see what we looked like and make some adjustments and learn from mistakes,” Storch said. “If that was the goal, I think we made some mistakes we can learn from. It’s not a loss, so on that end it’s a positive start.”

Alpena returns to action on Saturday at home in its annual Sunrise Side Soccer Challenge Cup Tournament. The tournament, which usually features eight teams, will only have four to deter the spread of COVID-19 and will feature only northern Michigan teams.

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