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‘Underdog’ role suits Shelby just fine in boys basketball team’s strong start to 2021-22

Tigers improve to 3-1 with three straight wins after cruising to nonleague victory over Manistee.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

SHELBY – Joseph Hayes would prefer if people continue sleeping on the Shelby boys basketball team. The Tigers appear on an upward trend and their confidence is growing by the game.

After going a combined 11-47 the last three seasons, Shelby is off to a 3-1 start with three straight wins after a 58-38 home victory over Manistee in nonleague action Tuesday night.

Hayes, the savvy 6-foot-1 senior guard, has been the tone-setter for the Tigers and he did it again with a game-high 23 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals.

“It’s amazing. A lot of people were overlooking us, so it’s good to show them. We knew what we could do. It’s good to prove it to everybody else,” Hayes said about his team’s start to the season, which includes a 2-0 record in the West Michigan Conference after winning only two league games in the last two seasons combined.

“I like the underdog (role) to prove everybody wrong, but I think soon people will start to take notice.”

Joseph Hayes of the Shelby boys basketball team is photographed at the CatchMark Media Day on Nov. 24, 2021, in Whitehall, Mich. (Cody Ottinger | CatchMark)

Shelby’s three-game winning streak started with a 40-34 home victory over North Muskegon on Dec. 10. The Tigers opened even more eyes with a 56-46 road win over Oakridge last week.

With the holiday break, Shelby has a little time to catch its breath and reflect on the strong start, while also working to build upon the momentum it has now.

The Tigers’ next game is Friday, Jan. 7, at Mason County Central.

“I’m really pleased. The kids are progressing nicely as a group,” veteran Shelby coach Rick Zoulek said. “The younger kids, you could see when I made that first substitution in the first half (that it was a little shaky), but you know, they just need to play. You just fight and claw your way back, that’s what you do.”

Coach Rick Zoulek of the Shelby boys basketball team is photographed at the CatchMark Media Day on Nov. 24, 2021, in Whitehall, Mich. (Cody Ottinger | CatchMark)

Shelby jumped out to a quick lead, but Manistee battled back for a 13-10 advantage at the end of the first quarter after Zoulek’s aforementioned substitutions.

Shelby regained its composure quickly and took complete control, outscoring Manistee 20-6 in the second quarter. The Tigers pulled away from there.

Junior guard Mason Garcia sparked Shelby with 10 points, four assists and three steals. Fellow junior guard Carson Claeys added nine points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals for the Tigers. Junior Bishop Lee did the dirty work inside and finished with seven points, 13 rebounds and two assists. Sophomore Wyatt Dickman chipped in seven points and three steals.

Kaden Kott paced Manistee (1-3) with 10 points, while Connor Beaurie scored eight.

Shelby boys basketball team is pictured at Media day on Nov. 24, 2021, at the Viking Athletic Center in Whitehall, Mich. (Kara Raeth | CatchMark)

Team chemistry has been the No. 1 factor to Shelby’s early success, according to Hayes, followed by the Tigers’ energy.

“A lot of us have played together over the summer in the past year …,” he said. “Everybody brings the hustle and energy on every play.”

Zoulek said that his team’s communication has improved from the start of the season. They fell to Fremont at home, 54-47, in the opener, but the coach is encouraged with the way his squad has been trending in the last few games.

Zoulek attributed guard play as a key. Hayes has been a consistent performer for Shelby, but Garcia and Claeys are playing with more confidence than they did as nervous sophomores last season.

“It’s amazing the difference when you’ve got guards that can play with confidence and take care of the ball and play solid defense. Boy, you can call a lot of things with guards. You give me guards any day … I like big kids, too, don’t get me wrong,” Zoulek said with a smile, “but you’ve got to have guards.”

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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