Polk County baseball coaches Billy Alm and Josh Money were busy working on The Bottoms on a recent afternoon, mowing and doing a few odds and ends to keep the park in shape.
The field looked ready for a game. Alm and Money would gladly have coached one, especially if it meant another outing for Polk County’s 2018 squad.
The Wolverines have packed away the equipment until 2019, but the memories of one of the best seasons in school history won’t soon be forgotten. Polk County marched to a 20-win season, the school’s first, and reached the third round of the state 1A playoffs before dropping a tough 2-1 decision in eight innings to Lincoln Charter.
The Wolverines had two separate nine-game winning streaks, didn’t drop a game in Western Highlands Conference play and unofficially set or tied 29 school records during a season no one predicted.
Not even Alm.
“It was way better than I expected,” the second-year head coach said. “Us coaches had high expecations, but this group hadn’t really won anything. I knew they worked hard in the offseason, but I had no clue what was coming.
“Looking back, we did pretty good.”
Polk County opened its season with a 1-1 showing in a tournament at West Wilkes, then reeled off its first nine-game streak, eight of those coming in conference play. That’s when Alm began to realize that the year could bring something special.
“Right after we got through the conference completely the first time through and were undefeated, I knew we had something going,” Alm said. “We didn’t give up many runs. We had a couple of rough first innings, but we always bounced right back. They would score four, we would score five. They would score two, we would score three or four.
“Everything started to click. We had the one bump in the road with the loss at West Henderson, but we bounced back and beat Avery.”
Polk County finished the season averaging more than 10 runs per game, including 12.3 runs per game in conference play. Alm gives much credit to the offseason training program that Money led for the Wolverines’ power surge.
“The weight room was the biggest difference with the confidence in instilled in each player,” he said. “They worked their tails off in there and it showed. We hit one home run last year. We hit 18 this year. The confidence for each player was huge.”
Senior Holden Owens had a lot to do with that offensive improvement. The Guilford Technical Community College signee hit .493 with 10 home runs and a school single-season record 51 RBI. Owens also set a season record for total bases and finished his career with the school record for RBI (79) and sharing the record for hits (101).
Sophomores Nick Capozzi (.402) and Kaleb Kropp (.400), juniors Evan Rimer (.373) and Sedrick Pickett (.319) and senior Tyler Harris (.342) joined Owens as the heart of the Polk County order.
Owens also played a key role in the team’s camaraderie; the Wolverines were a close-knit group who weren’t afraid to have fun when the situation allowed.
“The boys fought for each other,” Alm said. “Obviously, we had some ‘brotherly love’ where we had to step in, but for the most part, they got along all season. They knew when to joke around and knew when to pull it and be serious.”
The offensive support backed a pitching staff led by Harris and junior Avery Edwards. The two starters finished a combined 15-2, with Edwards a perfect 9-0, matching a school record for wins in a season. One of those wins was a no-hitter.
“We had the best two arms in the conference and probably the best one-two punch around,” Alm said. “They were followed up by some guys who didn’t get as many innings, but they did their job every time.
“Our focus this offseason is going to be developing some new arms for our pitching and for the ones we already have, making them stronger. From watching what we saw in the playoffs, we need three arms to be be top-notch.”
The focus on the future isn’t limited to the weight room; the building going up behind the left-field fence at The Bottoms is a key part of Alm’s vision for the future of the program. He hopes that by next season, the building will be a fully-enclosed facility where players can work on hitting and pitching at any time.
“We believe that’s going to be a game changer,” Alm said. “We can throw bullpen sessions in it now when it’s raining. But once we have the money to get in enclosed, with the heating and cooling, we can do skill development all year long. Not many schools around have a facility like that.”
School records set or tied by Polk County during the 2018 season include (old record in parentheses):
Hits: Nick Capozzi, 5 (4, several)
Runs: Nick Capozzi, 5 (4, several)
At-Bats: Nick Capozzi, 87 (85, Patrick Kelly, 2006)
Slugging percentage: Holden Owens, 1.146 (Joel Booker, 1.000, 2011)
RBI: Holden Owens, 51 (45, Mark Burrell, 2000)
Total Bases: Holden Owens, 86 (77, Eric Lookadoo, 1994)
Hit by Pitch: Evan Rimer, 10 (8, Joel Booker, 2011)
Complete Games: 6, Avery Edwards (ties Chris Eckert)
Wins: 9, Avery Edwards (ties Timmy McCurry, Nick Jolley, Brandon Jolley)
Shutouts: 4, Avery Edwards (3, Jordan Edwards, 2001)
No-Hitters: 1, Avery Edwards (several)
Hits: 101, Holden Owens (ties Brandon Jolley, 2007-2010)
Doubles: 25, Holden Owens (ties Josh Hudson, 1999-2001)
RBI: 79, Holden Owens (67, JP Ruth, 2006-2009)
Hit By Pitch: 14, Evan Rimer (10, Danny Fraga, 2009-2010)
Total Bases: 170, Holden Owens (Josh Hudson, 1999-2001)
Shutouts: Avery Edwards 4 (3, Jordan Edwards, 1999-2002)
Wins: 20 (19,2000, 2009, 2010)
Best season record: 20-4-1 (19-7, 2000)
Consecutive wins in a season: 9 (7, 2001)
Conference wins in a season: 15 (Wolverines were 10-0 in 2000, also a 1.000 winning percentage)
Most doubles in a season: 62 (60, 2000)
Walks: 127 (113, 2010)
Hit By Pitch: 32 (26, 2005)
Sacrifices: 22 (18, 2005)
Fewest Hits Allowed: 109 (115, 2001)
Putouts: 435 (343, 2007)
Double Plays: 22 (14, 2010)
Shutouts: 7 (6, 2000, 2011)