By Craig Beilfuss
HART—It was the Joseph Hayes show on Thursday evening as Oceana County rivals Shelby and Hart got together for a West Michigan Conference boys battle before a jammed packed house in Hart, which saw the Shelby Tigers survive a 63-55 win over the Pirates.
Hayes scored a career high 40 points, 24 of those points came in the first half. The sharp shooting Shelby guard also played a pivotal role for Tigers down the stretch as he connected on 10-of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter and went 16-of-18 for the game from the charity stripe.
“Team came out with the energy and the ball came to me a lot,”said Hayes. “I was just hitting shots and my teammates were getting me the ball.” As for his free throw shooting abilities. “It’s really focus. I shoot so many free throws. I know I can make everyone and I should make everyone.”
“Joe was solid in the first half,” said longtime Shelby head coach Rick Zoulek. “He’s very good in our offense. Joe’s a very composed young man. I trust him.”
Hayes and Shelby got out of the gate fast.
Hart held the lead twice in first quarter (3-2 and 5-4) and there was one fourth quarter tie. Other than that Shelby led the entire evening.
Shelby would jump out to a 19-11 lead after the first eight minutes of play. Hayes scored 13 of those Shelby points.
The Tigers would extend there lead to 35-19 in the second stanza with two minutes remaining as Hayes canned 11 points in the quarter. Hart Senior Parker Hovey kept Hart within striking distance with eight of his team high 23 points in the quarter. Shelby held an 18-12 second quarter scoring advantage and a 37-23 halftime lead.
With 4:53 remaining in the third quarter Shelby appeared to be in complete control with an 18-point lead at 46-28.
Hart would begin to make a valiant comeback, outscoring the Tigers 11-3 down the third quarter stretch. The Pirates hit five 3-point shots in the quarter. Hart would hold the upper hand in the quarter 17-12 and closed the deficit to 49-40 after three quarters when Hovey connected on a 3-point shot at the buzzer.
Hart went on a 11-2 spurt to open the fourth quarter.
Senior Jake VanderWilk hit two baskets. Junior Caleb Bitely hit a 3-point shot and Hovey hit a basket to go along with two free throws and things were knotted up at 51-51 with three minutes left.
In the last 2:32 Shelby would hit 10 free throws with Hayes connecting on eight of those to secure the win. Shelby hit 21-of-28 free throws for the night, while Hart hit 4-of-6 from the free throw line, with Hovey hitting all four of those shots.
“I think we let down offensively more than anything,” said Zoulek about giving up the 18-point lead.
“We created the momentum in the first half and we let them create the momentum in the second half and you just can’t do that. Luckily we got some composure back at the end, some guys hit some free throws.
“Once we got back to 0-0 (tied in the fourth quarter) we seemed to refocus and play tougher again. I was really pleased with how they responded.”
While no other Shelby player hit for double digits, junior Bishop Lee did manage to toss in 8 points for the Tigers. Carson Claeys and Wyatt Dickman each chipped in with 5 points respectively.
Hart junior Caleb Bitely joined Hovey in double figures with 12 points, going 4-of-7 from 3-point land. Junior Tony Rayo chipped in with 7 points while grabbing 6 rebounds.
Shelby improves 7-3 overall and to 6-2 in the West Michigan Conference. The Tigers will be back in action on Tuesday evening when they travel to North Muskegon to take on the Norsemen.
Hart drops to 4-5-1 on the season and is 3-5 in conference action. The Pirates will travel to Morley Stanwood on Tuesday, February 1 to take on the Mohawks.