By Craig Beilfuss
SHELBY—The Shelby Tigers swept the season series over the Hart Pirates on Thursday evening but for the second time in two weeks almost gave up a double digit second half lead in their 49-44 West Michigan Conference win.
With the exception of one tie at 3-3 Shelby led from start to finish. A poor first half offensively by Hart cost the Pirates any chance to upset Shelby.
Both teams started out slow as Shelby would get out to a 13-8 lead after the first eight minutes of play.
The Tigers hit three 3-point shots in the quarter, two by leading scorer Joseph Hayes. Hart hit two 3-pointers and a two point basket to account for all of its points.
The Shelby defense nearly tossed a shutout in the second stanza as they held Hart to three points while scoring 10 points to take a 23-11 halftime lead. Hayes, Bishop Lee and Mason Garcia accounted for all of the Tigers points.
Shelby increased there lead to 16 at 37-21 by the end of the third quarter outscoring Hart 14-10.
In there first matchup, back on January 27, Shelby blew an 18 point second half lead. Thursday evening they almost saw there double digit lead go up in smoke as Hart hit five 3-point shots and 10 free throws in the final eight minutes and racked up a 23-12 scoring advantage.
Shelby hit seven free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.
While Shelby veteran head coach Rick Zoulek was happy to put another victory in the win column, he was more concerned about getting 32 minutes of focus from his Shelby squad and he discussed giving up a huge lead to Hart again this season.
“I think it was just a lack of focus. We got that comfortable lead again like we did up there (Hart), got that 18 point lead up there and we just kind of took a breath,” said Zoulek.
“We started playing soft and we can’t play soft. We gotta play tougher for 32 minutes. The mental toughness isn’t there yet and I gotta work on that in practice,” Zoulek said.
Joseph Hayes and Bishop Lee each finished with a game high 18 points and nine rebounds for Shelby. Wyatt Dickman hauled down seven rebounds and Mason Garicia dished out five assists.
The Tigers shot 39.5 percent from the field going 15-of-38. Helby hit 4-of 12 from 3-point land. The Tigers were 15-of-24 from the free throw line.
Senior Kohen Porter led the Hart offense with a team high 15 points, going four of seven from 3-point land. Junior Wyatt Dean finished with 11 points and Senior Jake VanderWilk chipped in with eight points.
The Pirates shot 36 percent from the field going 13-of-36. Hart connected on 8-of-17 from long distance and went 10-of-13 from the free throw line.
Shelby improves to 9-5 overall and 6-4 in the West Michigan Conference. The Tigers will host conference foe Mason County Central on Tuesday, February 15.
Hart falls to 5-8 overall and 2-8 in the West Michigan Conference. The Pirates will travel to Whitehall on Tuesday, February 15.