Local Sports Journal

The Shelby Tigers seemed like they had a spot secured in the Class C basketball quarterfinals.

Then Pewamo-Westphalia’s Nick Spitzley and Lane Simon got hot and applied sudden death to the Tigers’ outstanding season.

Shelby led 55-49 with less than two minutes remaining. But Simon and Spitzley each nailed three-pointers, and Spitzley followed with a layup and two free throws.

That sealed a 55-49 victory for Pewamo-Westphalia in the Class C regional championship game at Montabella High School.

Shelby wrapped up with a 22-3 record that included a West Michigan Conference championship and a Class C district title.

The Tigers missed several shots down the stretch, allowing the Pirates to steal the win. Spitzley and Simon scored the game’s last 10 points and combined for 17 of their team’s 19 fourth quarter points.

“We missed a couple of opportunities offensively to maintain the lead and they hit some big shots,” said Shelby coach Rick Zoulek. “And they made some tough shots. They were gimmes by no means. We left the door open and they took advantage of it.”

The game was a back-and-forth affair all four quarters. Pewamo-Westphalia opened with an 11-2 run but Shelby fought back to knot the score 11-11 after one quarter.

Pewamo-Westphalia  led 28-24 at halftime, but the Tigers used an 18-12 third quarter advantage to grab a 42-40 edge after three.

The Tigers’ six-point lead late in the game seemed big enough to seal the win. Then Simon and Spitzley stole the show to advance the Pirates to the quarterfinals.

Spitzley finished with 22 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, and the final seven points of the game.

Jason Beckman paced Shelby with 22 points and seven steals.Devin Mussell contributed 10 points and three assists, Caleb Anderson had eight points and Jeff Beckman added eight points and six rebounds.

Zoulek said the last-minute heartbreak made the loss a bit harder to take.

“Sometimes it’s easier to lose by 20 but (the Pirates) are a good basketball team,” said Zoulek, whose team beat Hesperia, Hart, Montague and Lakeview to advance to the regional final.

“We did a great job of playing defense when we needed to – they made a few runs and we changed up defenses and the kids did a good job of finding their shooters. They just made the key shots at the right time.

“It’s hard, because this team has great chemistry, they all get along great and love being in the gym. They have been easy to coach.”

Zoulek tipped his hat to his team’s seniors – Jeff Beckman, Brody Lee, Devin Mussell, Jason Beckman, Andrew Beckman and Graham Herin – who finished their varsity careers with a tough loss.

“We’re going to miss the five seniors in a lot of different ways – they all helped the team a lot in their own way,” he said. “I’m excited about the guys we have coming back next year, but we will have some big shoes to fill.”