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Wildcats turn in solid performance at home despite loss to Gaylord

News Photo by James Andersen Alpena’s Sam Cook, left, races for the ball while being pursued by Gaylord’s Charlie Holscher during the first half of a boys soccer game at Park Family Field at Wildcat Stadium on Thursday.

Alpena High boys soccer coach Tim Storch never likes to lose.

But he couldn’t fault his team’s effort on Thursday.

Matt Diamond made 14 saves and the Wildcats turned in one of their best performances of the season in a 2-1 loss to Gaylord at Park Family Field at Wildcat Stadium.

The last two weeks have been rough on the Wildcats. Running into the heart of their Big North Conference schedule, the Wildcats have been outscored 21-1 in their last four games.

But the effort was much better on Thursday as Alpena’s bend-but-don’t break defense held off several offensive flurries by the Blue Devils and had several chances of its own, despite the loss.

“I never like to lose, but that was probably our best game of the year,” Storch said. “We were competitive from the opening whistle, had a 1-0 lead and gave up two goals, but we retooled our lineup completely.”

Alpena held a 1-0 lead at halftime after Brett Najmowicz scored on a penalty kick with 8:15 left. Gaylord netted the equalizer a minute and a half into the final frame with a goal from Isaac Gerstenberger and Charlie Holscher tapped in the game-winner with 25:43 left.

With the Blue Devils repeatedly charging toward the net, Diamond put on a clinic between the posts. Alpena’s senior keeper made several point-blank stops, but showed his versatility throughout the game. He made a few diving stops, punched a ball out of the air out of harm’s way and made some big stops on corner kicks, doing all he could to keep Alpena in the game.

“Matt Diamond made some great saves,” Storch said. “When you’ve got a young team like we do, you need a situation where your goalkeeper can give you a chance to win the game and he certainly did.”

Najmowicz’s beat Gaylord’s keeper on the left on his penalty kick, giving Alpena just its second goal in the last five games–Alpena nearly took a 2-0 lead into halftime when Mike Clark send a high arcing shot just to the left of the net with seconds remaining.

Gaylord had numerous chances in the first half, but couldn’t convert against a shuffled Alpena lineup. Despite being outshot 7-2 in the first 40 minutes, Alpena held firm. Diamond denied a point-blank chance with 24:18 left and Gaylord was denied again only seconds later when a shot hit the crossbar.

The Blue Devils came out swinging in the second half and were rewarded when Gerstenberger found the back of the net less than two minutes in.

After several misses opportunities, Holscher gave Gaylord the edge, taking a arcing pass from a teammate for an easy shot to the net’s bottom left corner.

Alpena was unsuccessful in tying the game, but was awarded several free kicks in the second half to keep the ball on the offensive side of the field. One of the Wildcats’ final chances came with 5:09 when Jacob Beaubien narrowly lost a race for the ball with Gaylord’s keeper and went tumbling over him in the aftermath.

“We played well. These guys hammered us at their place,” Storch said. “This was a far better performance…We had some direct kicks, we had some corner kicks we were dangerous on. We were within a centimeter of going up 2-0 at halftime. I’m happy. If the boys play like that, they’re going to be successful.”

Alpena plays at Bay City Western on Saturday at 2 p.m. and returns home on Tuesday to host Cadillac.

Alpena’s JV team tied Gaylord 2-2 on Thursday.

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