A big step forward

The bad news after Saturday’s second annual Sunrise Side Soccer Cup Challenge was that the Alpena boys soccer team ended the day without a win in three games.

The good news was that the Wildcats put on a solid performance all day and had every reason to feel good, considering how well they played against some tough competition.

Alpena (0-3) opened the tournament with a 2-1 loss against eventual tournament champion Lapeer East and followed up with 4-0 and 1-0 defeats against Walled Lake Central and Midland Dow respectively.

“I told the boys before and after the tournament that this is by far the most talented team we’ve had,” Alpena coach Tim Storch said. “Tactically, we have the ability to play better than any team we’ve had. It’s nice to look at it and say we’re able to close some gaps. We’re making good progress.”

Alpena’s effort against Lapeer was perhaps one of its best all-around efforts since Storch took over the program in 2011. Alpena fell behind 2-0 at halftime, but battled back to tie the game early in the second half and had several scoring chances the rest of the way.

A goal from Peter Guest on a penalty kick with 18:14 left, cut Lapeer’s lead in half and seemed to kickstart Alpena’s offense. As Wildcats goaltender Cameron Rubio made several stops to keep the game close, Alpena came up just shy on several offensive chances.

With six minutes left, Evan LeTourneau sent a shot just to the left of the net. Less than a minute later, Guest fired a shot to almost the same spot. The Eagles ultimately hung on for the win even as Tommy Hein fired one more shot on net in the closing seconds.

Jacob Dennis scored twice for Lapeer.

The Wildcats had trouble containing Andrew Dalou and Walled Lake in their second game. Dalou finished the game with two goals and an assist despite receiving a yellow card in the first half.

“I don’t think we performed well. We made some mental mistakes and those turned into physical mistakes,” Storch said of the game.

Dalou’s two goals and stellar play were more than enough for a Vikings’ win, but Walled Lake freshman Paulo Perez-Diaz had the play of the game with 2:35 left to play after he took a pass and scored on a bicycle kick to give the Vikings a 4-0 lead.

Dalou gave the Vikings a 1-0 lead at half time after scoring on a penalty kick 15 minutes into the first half. Less than two minutes later, he received a yellow card for dissent. His card was one of yellow three cards given in the first half, as two Alpena players received them as well.

He added a second goal eight minutes into the second half, juking a couple defenders and burying a shot past Rubio. Ben Prestel gave the Vikings a 3-0 lead a few minutes later with an assist from Dalou.

The Wildcats had several chances against Dow, but couldn’t net the equalizer. Dow took fourth place in the tournament behind Lapeer, Midland and Troy Athens.

“We played a very, very good game, especially since we’re starting five sophomores. We played them very competitively and we had tremendous opportunities and outchanced them.”

The good showing at the tournament could give the Wildcats some momentum as they dive into their Big North Conference schedule. Alpena hosts Petoskey on Tuesday at 7 p.m. and Traverse City West on Thursday at 1 p.m.

“It’s good to have teams of that caliber. It shows our kids, current players and younger players what we need to do to get to that level,” Storch said. “It bodes well for where we can go, not just this season, but in years to come.”

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.