HART — Hart and Shelby often save their most spirited games for one another, but Thursday evening wasn’t what either school had in mind.
With 10 minutes to go in a game Shelby was leading 4-0, a hard foul by a Hart player on Shelby’s Brian Garcia instigated an altercation between the two, which resulted in a separate fight centering around Hart’s Justin Reyes and Shelby’s Harrison Jenkins. Both those players had to be restrained — athletic director Tim Hertzler and Shelby assistant coach Carlos Lozano subdued Reyes, while Jenkins was held back by a couple of his teammates — and were ultimately red-carded.
As a result of the fight, Hertzler elected to have the game declared a forfeit to avoid further incident. Outside of the two players who were red-carded, Hertzler said, most of the rest of the players on the field, as well as the officials, handled the incident as well as could be expected.
“Hart is comfortable with how the vast majority of the players handled the situation,” Hertzler said in a statement Monday. “A couple of players responded in an unacceptable manner and have received appropriate consequences. We believe they have learned a valuable lesson.”
In addition to Reyes’ and Jenkins’ red cards, which by MHSAA rule resulted in their suspension from the next game, Hertzler said two more Hart players were suspended by the school for at least part of the following game against Suttons Bay Saturday, which Hart won 6-0.
The Tigers dominated the first 70 minutes of play prior to that incident, led by three goals from Layton Jennings. The Tigers’ leading scorer put one in the net six minutes into the game, and teammate Diego Gonzalez added a second goal early in the first half on a great pass to set him up for an easy shot.
Jennings scored again early in the second half and for a third time with 14 minutes to go. Leading up to the altercation, Hart received a few yellow cards as play became more chippy.
Gonzalez is back at full strength now after a September injury, Shelby coach Jairo Coronado said, which has strengthened a Tigers’ team that spent most of the first half of the season banged up.
“Diego is a phenomenal player and I’m glad to have him back,” Coronado said. “We missed him and he’s back. Now it doesn’t matter who I put in as a center mid or a wing, they are playing phenomenal. They just do a good job with that.”
The Tigers, who were given the #1 seed in the upcoming district tournament due to its Michigan Power Rating score, feel they are now playing their best soccer and are excited for the postseason.
“We understand our game now, and we’re playing our game,” Coronado said. “We don’t worry about how the other team plays. We play our game. We have very good, quick passes. It was nice to see that today, we were smart about everything.”
The Pirates, meanwhile, continue to struggle with a season that has not gone anywhere close to the way coach Alex Hardy had hoped.
“It’s been a really tough season for Joe and I, and the whole team,” Hardy said. “Honestly, we’re just a young team. We are really just trying to get better this season... All you can do is be positive for the kids. Tell them it’s going to get better. Have an optimistic mindset. Every day, come to practice ready to get better.”
Coronado and Hardy each said the way the game ended was unfortunate.
“It’s Hart vs. Shelby, so things get kind of crazy sometimes,” Coronado said. “We were playing a very good game. Of course, it wasn’t the way we wanted to end it.”
“It was just a matter of words and back and forth, and I don’t know who snapped first,” Hardy said. “Somebody said something and somebody said something back.”