By Brendan Samuels

SHELBY – More than 70 minutes went by before a goal was scored in Monday’s conference opener between Shelby and Montague.

When a ball did finally find the back of the net, it came off the foot of a Shelby striker, making the Tigers one win richer by a 1-0 score.

It wasn’t pretty for either team, but the Wildcats were the team that showed more fight in the beginning. Through sheer effort, Montague consistently out-battled Shelby in the midfield, leading to extended possessions and consistent penetration into their defense.

Montague had scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity in the first half, but couldn’t piece anything together in the first 40 minutes. That was due to Shelby’s resilient back line and their ability to attack the Wildcats in their third of the field.

Guys like Zach Horton, Logan Selig, Nathan Miller and Mauricio Castillo consistently spoiled good looks on net. Even when Montague was able to get past them, they had to deal with starting keeper Ismael Valdez.

“For the first 30 minutes, (Montague) just hustled more than us,” Shelby coach Jairo Coronado said. “We weren’t there mentally, but it was nice to see that we could count on our defense. Today, our defense saved us.”

Photo/Joe Washington

The half came to a close without any goals scored, something that was a major moral victory for Montague, evidenced by the celebrations and confidence emanating from their sideline. The vibe was much different from the Tigers, who were visibly disappointed with their inability to effectively communicate and find open looks.

Coronado and his coaching staff made sure the Tigers knew that their play wouldn’t suffice, and that led into a much different level of play in the second half.

“We tried to fix our mentality at halftime and that seemed like it worked,” Coronado said. “We came back and played our game. That’s the soccer we should have been playing.”

Shelby was much more present in the final 40 minutes, often pushing the ball down the line with their speed. Trey Gauthier and Ignacio Ortiz made Montague defenders miss multiple times, but still the score sat at 0-0.

Photo/Joe Washington

When the clock dropped inside 10 minutes, the pace of the game took a noticeable shift. Then, with 7:38 remaining, Castillo pushed down the left sideline and left two Wildcat defenders behind as he cut toward the middle. With one man left to beat, Castillo made a cross pass to Venancio Cadena, who promptly struck a ball over the line and gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

With little time left, Montague knew they were running out of time. A nicely placed shot into the top right corner of the net nearly tied things up, but Valdez made an incredible save to put the game away.

Shelby’s effort in the final 10 minutes was what won them the game, but the Tigers know they won’t have much success in the West Michigan Conference playing that way. Any improvement will need to be made quickly with the schedule beginning to heat up.

“Our mentality has to change quickly,” Coronado said. “Some of our leaders were not there today, especially in the first half. We have the talent and chemistry to be better and we’ll make that happen before Wednesday.”

Shelby moved to 4-1-2 on the year and will face their next test on Wednesday when they host Whitehall at 5:30 p.m.

Photo/Joe Washington

Photo/Joe Washington