By Nate Thompson
ZEELAND — Shelby’s calling card during its inspired run through the Class C tournament has been its suffocating defense.
In Tuesday’s Class C state quarterfinals at Zeeland East High School, the Tigers ran into an opponent that could match their defensive intensity, but also had a little extra punch offensively.
That combination spelled doom for Shelby, which lost to Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian 48-36 and finished with an outstanding 23-2 record.
NorthPointe Christian earned its first ever trip to the state semifinals in East Lansing.
Even though his team failed in its quest at matching the 2012 squad that reached the state semifinals, Shelby Coach Rick Zoulek said Tigers had a lot to be proud of, including conference, district and regional titles.
“That’s what I told them afterward, that I was extremely proud to be a part of this team,” Zoulek said. “They kept fighting and fighting. It’s been a great journey. We accomplished so many great things both on and off the court.”
NorthPointe point guard Preston Huckaby and his backcourt mate, Andrew Holesinger, helped ensure the victory by nearly outscoring the Tigers by themselves. Huckaby, the Mustangs’ all-time leading scorer, led the way with 19 points, while Holesinger added 12.
The duo’s ability to create off the dribble and either finish or find open shooters for quality looks sparked NorthPointe’s surge in the third quarter. The Mustangs held a 24-20 lead at the half, but outscored the Tigers by a 14-6 margin in the third to gain control.
The dagger was a corner jumper by Holesinger just before the third-quarter buzzer. He also totaled five assists and eight rebounds in the game.
Shelby, meanwhile, just couldn’t string together enough quality possessions on the offensive end.
“I thought we changed a lot of our shots (down low) when we didn’t need to, but we saw their size and that’s what happens,” Zoulek said. “We missed three or four really good looks early on and we trailed at the half instead of possibly having a lead.
“Really, there’s nothing else you can do against a good team like that,” he added. “You got to hit those shots that you need to.”
Holesinger continued to thrive with the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter, draining a 3-pointer and an impressive pull-up jumper to give the Mustangs their largest lead at 43-28.
“Especially in the fourth quarter, (dribble penetration) was key, because we forced them to come out and defend,” said NorthPointe coach Jared Redell. “They wanted to pack it in defensively, so we forced them to make a decision.
“And with Preston, he’s so quick off the dribble and Andrew uses his body so well. Against little guys he can shoot over top and if they put a bigger guy on him, he can go right past them.”
Shelby was in contention throughout the first half, thanks to 10 points from senior guard Caleb Anderson, but Huckaby’s defense shut down the Tiger sharpshooter in the second half.
“We heard a lot about how Shelby was holding teams down, but we pride ourselves in our defense, too,” Redell said. “We wanted to make a statement in how we defend other people and I thought we did that.”
Shelby’s junior center Jeffrey Beckman – the Tigers’ leading scorer this season – narrowly missed out on a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds. He went head-to-head with NorthPointe 6-foot-6 center Kual Nhial and held the talented post player to seven points.