By Craig Beilfuss

MONTAGUE—In a key West Michigan Conference showdown, the Montague Wildcats rallied from an early first quarter deficit to pull out a 57-45 win over the Shelby Tigers on Thursday evening.

Shelby controlled most of the first quarter, as they jumped out to a 9-0 lead. The Tigers gOt two baskets from Mason Garcia, a layup by Joseph Hayes and a 3-point shot from Carson Claeys.

“We just couldn’t match their physicality,”….Shelby head coach Rick Zoulek (Photo/Leo Valdez)

We caught them off guard early with our execution,” said Shelby veteran head coach Rick Zoulek.

Montague got on the board with 2:08 remaining in the first quarter and ended the period on their own 6-0 spurt to narrow the Shelby lead to 9-6, as Shelby failed to extend their lead.

The Wildcats took their first lead of the game with 6:36 remaining in the second stanza when Tate Stine hit a 3-point shot to put Montague up 11-10. The Wildcats never trailed after that. They put a little distance between themselves and Shelby by outscoring the Tigers 16-6 in the quarter to take a 22-15 halftime lead.

Montague had taken momentum away from Shelby, particularly on the defensive side of the ball with 6’7” sophomore Isaiah Atchison altering the shot selection by the Tigers.

Isaiah Atchison (#30) goes up for one of his team leading six blocked shots against Shelby on Thursday evening (Leo Valdez)

He changes shots and we didn’t execute well in getting him to move around,” said Zoulek. As for what changed in the second quarter, “they (Montague) got more aggressive and picked up there physical intensity, which we couldn’t match.”

Atchison would finish the night with a game high six blocked shots, to go along with 8 rebounds and 8 points, going 4-of-6 from the free throw line.

Shelby would narrow the gap in the third quarter as Joseph Hayes started to heat up, with 7 points in the quarter. Meanwhile Rodney Brassfield kept the Wildcats ahead of the Tigers, scoring 6 points as Montague held a 32-28 lead after three quarters as Shelby outscored Montague 13-10 in the quarter.

Claeys hit a 3-point shot for Shelby at the 7:28 mark of the fourth quarter, which brought the Tigers to within one of Montague at 32-31.

It was the closest the Tigers got, as Montague went on a 7-0 run with Nichols hitting a bucket and Colton Blankstrom hit a 3-point shot and a two point field goal and the Wildcats were quickly up by eight at 39-31 with 5:38 remaining.

Montague would connect on 9 free throws down the stretch to secure the win and hold a 25-17 fourth quarter scoring advantage.

Although we turned the ball over way too much (17 turnovers), I was extremely pleased with our effort tonight,” said Montague head coach David Osborne. “We made free throws down the stretch which we have worked hard on in practice.”

Montague senior Tate Stine led the Wildcats with a team high 13 points, including 6-of-8 from the free throw line. Tugg Nichols and Rodney Brassfield each tossed in 10 points respectively.

Montague shot 47 percent from the field going 16-for-34 and cashed in at the free throw line going 13-of-19.

Shelby senior Joseph Hayes led the Tigers with a game high 16 points and junior Carson Claeys chipped in with 12 points.

Shelby shot just fifty percent from the free throw line going 10-for-20. The Tigers shot just 10-of-43 from the field for 23 percent and turned the ball over 15 times.

We just couldn’t match their physicality,” said Zoulek.

Montague improves to 4-2 overall and 3-2 in the West Michigan Conference. The Wildcats will travel to Hart next Tuesday, January 18 to take on the Pirates.

Shelby drops to 4-2 overall and is 3-1 in the West Michigan Conference. The Tigers will host the Ravenna Bulldogs on Tuesday evening.