By Greg Gielczyk

SCOTTVILLE — Bishop Lee lifted the Shelby boys’ basketball team onto his shoulders yet again and carried the Tigers to a thrilling 45-40 victory over White Cloud.
The Division 3 in the district championship game was played at Mason County Central on Friday.
Obviously, he didn’t do it alone … not until the end, that is, when he hit four-of-seven free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the win. The victory sends the Tigers, winners of eight straight, into Monday night’s regional against McBain. That game will be played in Lake City.
White Cloud finished 13-10.
The Tigers (14-11) trailed throughout the first half and did not take their first lead until junior Phillip Hayes nailed a 3-pointer to start the third quarter.
“We just knew they (the Indians) were going to play better than the last time we played them, (and) we knew we were better than the last time we played them,” said Shelby coach Rick Zoulek. “I was really proud of how we held off their energy in the first. We fought through. I thought they played a really good game the first half. I thought we maintained our composure pretty much the whole time.
“My bench – Treyjin Waller and Lalo Garcia – came in and spelled my posts and gave them just enough rest and gave us good minutes. It was huge for us to be able to do that after playing three games this week.”
Shelby did it twice during the regular season, and Zoulek said the third game was “bad.” Friday night, the Tigers hung on and extended their season for at least another game.
Mason Ruether knocked down a 3-pointer and Robinson scored on a medium range jumper as the Indians finished the first quarter with an 11-6 lead.
White Cloud mounted a seven-point lead, 16-9 in the second quarter on a steal and layup by Kevin Strait and a 3-pointer by Robinson. Shelby came back, as Phillip Hayes drilled a 3-pointer which shaved the Indians’ lead to one, 16-15 with two minutes left in the first half. Robinson answered with a layup, before Hayes was fouled shooting a triple and sank two-of-three free throws to make it 18-17 at the break.
“The first time we played them, they outrebounded us badly and we lost by 13,” White Cloud coach Bob Jones said. “(This time it was) free throws. We were 1-for-11, and that right there is the nail in the coffin. They made them, we didn’t. They’re well coached. They’re patient on offense. They play really well together. We’re probably a year out. We’ve got a lot of kids coming back, (and) a lot of kids coming up from the JVs that are really talented.
“Jayden Robinson … he’s a matchup problem,” Jones said. “Most people don’t realize until it’s too late that he’s lefthanded. But he’s a sophomore. You can still see that he’s in that transition area. Look out for this team next year. We’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”
The lead changed hands five times and was tied twice before the Tigers moved in front, 29-28 when Carson Claeys knocked down a triple. Shelby would not be headed again the rest of the way. The Tigers scored the final eight points of the third quarter, Lalo Garcia swishing a jumper and Mason Garcia converting 3-point play and led by six, 34-28, going into the last stanza.
But the Indians stayed right on the Tigers heels, rallying to climb within one, 41-40.
That’s when Lee took over.
He was fouled on a defensive rebound and made both free throws to make it a 44-40 lead with 13.2 seconds remaining, and then hit another for the final point with 4.2 ticks on the clock.
“We missed some (free throws) the other night and that was very uncharacteristic of us to miss those at the end of the game,” Zoulek said. “We’ve been doing really well. Bishop, Mason and Carson are my three best shooters and I want them to have the ball when it comes that time. I was really pleased with our team rebounding.
“It’s not always going to be Bishop, because we don’t have that one big guy,” Zoulek said. “We’ve got to do it by committee and I was pleased with how they did it.”
Mason Garcia led the Tigers with 14 points, Lee finished with 10 points and Hayes eight. Garcia and Hayes made two 3-pointers apiece. The Tigers were 12-of-18 at the free throw line.
Ruether scored 10 points to lead the Indians, while Jayden Robinson and Noah Robinson added nine apiece and Kevin Strait added six.
All photos below are courtesy of LSJ Photographer Leo Valdez