By Steve Gunn
BEAL CITY – It’s pretty rare for a team to win a regional championship game when it makes only one basket in the fourth quarter.
But when a team plays defense like Shelby, it can happen.
The Tigers weren’t very impressive offensively in the final eight minutes of Wednesday’s Class C regional championship game against Laingsburg at Beal City High School. They made only the one field goal, had seven turnovers and missed nine free throws.
But Laingsburg was even worse, shooting 1-for-21 from the floor in the fourth, allowing Shelby to escape with a 46-33 victory and a Class C regional crown.
The win broke a two-year losing streak in the regional finals for Shelby, and put Coach Rick Zoulek in the state quarterfinals in his 30th year at the helm.
Shelby, now 23-1, moves on to Tuesday’s quarterfinals against Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (19-5).
The winner will advance to the final four in East Lansing, with a state championship looming on the horizon.
“This is a great group of kids,” Zoulek said after the game. “They had three goals this season – to win the conference, districts and regionals and they’ve done that. They were holding up three fingers (after the game) because they want to win three more.”
Some will say that Laingsburg killed itself with poor shooting, and that was true enough.
They were 9-for-55 from the floor for the game, went more than half of the third quarter without a point, and only made three field goals in the second half.
But Shelby’s tough zone defense had a lot to do with that, forcing Laingsburg to take low-percentage shots from the perimeter, and preventing putbacks with strong defensive rebounding.
It’s a formula that’s been working for the Tigers all year.
“I think we just maintained our intensity on defense more than anything,” said Zoulek, who last took a team to the state quarterfinals in 2012. “We tried to find their shooters all the time, we made them take five or six passes before they shot, then we got the rebounds and prevented the second chances when they missed.”
Shelby got just enough offense from the Beckmans.
Junior guard Danny Beckman was hot from the outside, hitting four triples – two in the first quarter and two in the third. He finished with a game-high 15 points.
His contribution was particularly important because senior guard Caleb Anderson, one of the team’s leading scorers, had foul trouble all night and finished with only two points.
“I felt good, but it’s all on my teammates, they got me the ball,” Danny Beckman said. “We knew we were going to play a great Laingsburg team, and we came out intense and got a good lead. It felt great.”
Junior post player Jeffrey Beckman handled the other two quarters, scoring six in the second and eight in the fourth. He finished with 14 points.
“He wanted the ball, he wanted to shoot free throws,” Zoulek said. “That’s the type of leadership we’ve had all year.”
The Tigers got off to a hot start, thanks to Danny Beckman’s two 3-pointers in the first two minutes, and led 15-6 after one quarter.
Laingsburg recovered a bit in the second quarter, collecting triples from Jagger Richard and Bryson Mitchell, to cut its deficit to 24-17 at the break.
Danny Beckman hit two more three-pointers in the third quarter, while Michael James added two buckets, allowing Shelby to extend its lead to 34-22 at the third buzzer.
The fourth quarter was a battle of free throws, with Shelby making 10 of 19, just enough to maintain its margin of victory. Jeffrey Beckman made four shots from the line, while Danny Beckman and Spencer Landis added three apiece.
Laingsburg made 9 of 12 from the line, but it wasn’t enough to make a difference.
Wolfpack standout Ryan Wade led his team with 13 points, with nine coming from the free throw line.