CLARE — For nearly 18 minutes, Shelby looked ready to go toe to toe with Elk Rapids, the No. 1 team in the state by Michigan Power Rating.
However, the Elks, loaded with strong, physical, fast and smart players that often resembled football tight ends more so than soccer players, were not to be stopped. They scored three goals in a 2:17 span to seize control of the game in the first half and romped to a 6-0 victory that ended the Tigers’ deepest playoff run in 15 years.
“It was a tough game, for sure,” Shelby coach Jairo Coronado said. “We were able to give them a game for 15 to 18 minutes. We were right there. We were playing good defensively, and we were able to create some chances on top, too. It was great to see that. They scored the first goal and the second goal, and we started playing their game for a minute.”
The Elks opened the scoring off a corner kick at the 22:07 mark, with Preston Ball heading the ball in. 34 seconds later, Matthew Garrow broke loose from the Shelby defense and scored. Terran Peterson added the third goal at the 19:50 mark.
To their credit, the Tigers shored things up and didn’t allow any more goals in the first half. But the damage was done.
Coronado said his team put out a great effort and that he was proud of their work Saturday and all season.
“I asked them to give me their best and they gave me their best plus one, which is what we wanted,” Coronado said. “I asked them to hustle for every single 50/50 ball, and it was great to see all of them try their hardest. We knew what kind of team they were and we were right there with them, but we just couldn’t keep up.”
Elk Rapids added three second-half goals, one each by Spencer Ball, Jared Barcenas and Mason Travis, to account for the final margin.
Shelby had played an overtime thriller Wednesday in the regional semifinals against Oakridge, while Elk Rapids had breezed to a win over Ogemaw Heights. That game, which started at 8 p.m. and resulted in Shelby not arriving back in town until past midnight that night, likely affected the Tigers Saturday, Coronado said.
“It was a good win for us against Oakridge, but the players got tired and the bus ride was pretty long, too,” Coronado said. “It affected us mentally and physically. But like I said, it’s not an excuse. I asked the kids to give me their best and that’s what they did, especially the seniors.”
Those seniors, six of them in all, leave behind a tremendous Tiger legacy, as their careers built to the crescendo of a district championship and regional finals berth. Brian Garcia, Brandon Rabe, Henry Kidder, Anthony Gilchrist, Matthew Oberlin and Logan Claeys played their final Tiger games Saturday.
“Like I told my seniors, they leave a great legacy,” Coronado said. “Ever since they got to varsity, phenomenal, all of them. I’m so proud of every single one of them. I told them, we’re going to do great things, because they started everything.”
Many key players who will be back next season saw a lot of action throughout the season and certainly on Saturday. Going up against a team the caliber of the Elks will only help as the Tigers get ready this off-season for a 2021 they expect to be just as successful as this one. Freshman Mauricio Castillo will be inheriting Brian Garcia’s spot as the go-to defensive player. Ricardo Bahena, Joseph Hayes, Carson Claeys and Harrison Jenkins are just a few of the key 2020 Tigers who will only become more important next fall as those seniors move on.
“It was great to see that my underclassmen were ready to play against them,” Coronado said. “It will definitely help us next year coming back. I’ll have many players coming back next year, and we expect a great season, too. I’m looking forward to it already.
“I know we’re going to have a great season. We’re going to look forward to coming back to this moment and we’ll move on to the next stage next year.”