SCOTTVILLE — Shelby’s boys basketball team had its hands full against host Mason County Central in the Division 3 district semifinal game Wednesday night, but fought off the Spartans for a thrilling 54-51 victory.
It was a close game from the opening tip, with the Spartans (15-8) staying right with the Tigers (13-11). The outcome was in doubt until the very end.
“We don’t usually shoot a lot (of 3s), but we shot and made them tonight,” Shelby coach Rick Zoulek said. “Mason (Garcia) had a great game for us offensively, thank goodness, because they focused on our inside kids and roughed us up a little bit. I’m really proud of how far they (the Tigers) have come in helping each other and communicating.”
Shelby gained a narrow 10-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, but the Spartans battled back to take a 21-18 lead in the waning seconds of the second quarter as Will Chye, the Spartans’ 1,000-point scorer, put in five points in the period.
Garcia found the range from long distance again and the Tigers pulled into a 21-all tie at the half.
Jack VanderHaag knocked down two 3-pointers for the Spartans in the third quarter, and senior Kaiden Cole contributed another, but the Tigers successfully penetrated the paint with more frequency and moved into a two-point lead, 34-32, going into the fourth period.
Shelby pushed it out to a 12-point lead, 53-41, at the 1:19 mark of the final stanza, helped by a 7-of-8 performance at the free-throw line.
But the Tigers added just one more point to its total over the remaining time, and the Spartans made a rally that nearly pulled out the victory.
It was long-range shooting that brought the Spartans back, as two 3-pointers by junior Braylin Thurow had them knocking on the door, trailing 54-47.
A pair of free throws by Cole closed the deficit even more, 54-49. Jayden Perrone, whose status for the tournament was in doubt after an injury, made the last shot of the game.
“We had a lot of guys really step up tonight,” said Spartan coach Tim Genson. “Kolden Myer had a great game. ‘The Microwave’ Braylin (Thurow) came in and hit a couple 3s. Kaiden gave us some great play down the stretch.
“We left it all out there (on the court). It always comes down to an end sooner than you want it too.”
Garcia finished with a game-high 18 points, while Phillip Hayes, Wyatt Dickman and Bishop Lee notched 11 apiece for the Tigers.
Hayes pulled down seven rebounds, Carson Claeys dished out six assists and picked off two steals. Garcia added five assists and Dickman had two.
Chye paced the Spartans with 13 points and six rebounds. VanderHaag added 11. Myer added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Shelby’s next challenge is White Cloud in the district finals at 7 p.m. Friday in Scottville. The Indians defeated Hesperia, 65-33, in the other semifinal.