Wolverines bring home WHC baseball championship

Polk County's Avery Edwards set a school record Friday with his fourth shutout of the season.

BURNSVILLE – Friday looked like nearly every other Polk County victory this season.

Felt, though? Didn’t feel like any other game, especially as the runs and outs mounted. Around the Wolverine dugout they talked about postgame celebrations and made certain the Gatorade bucket sat ready. With each out in the final inning they inched closer to the edge of the dugout.

All with good reason – a conference championship awaited.

A Western Highlands Conference regular-season baseball championship, to be exact, the sixth in Polk County history and the first since 2012, secured with the Wolverines’ 11-0 five-inning victory at Mountain Heritage.

As Avery Edwards took a flip from Kaleb Kropp and stepped on first base for the game’s final out, head coach Billy Alm took two steps onto the field, stopped and raised both hands in the air.

And exhaled.

“I can finally sleep,” Alm said.

The Wolverines made certain that rest would come with sweet dreams. Polk played a near-flawless game, scoring in every inning, going error-free with a couple of defensive gems and getting a stellar performance on the mound from Edwards.

Setting a school record with his fourth shutout of the season, Edwards looked locked in from the outset. He retired the first 10 Cougar batters in order, gave up back-to-back hits in the fourth inning, escaped that threat and walked his lone batter of the day in the fifth before recording the final out. The junior threw 55 pitches in his five innings, an economical effort that brought game’s end just as the sun dipped behind the mountains west of Burnsville.

“He made one bad pitch on their first hit,” Alm said. “After that, he handled them.”

Mountain Heritage (7-6, 7-5) struggled defensively, committing four errors. Two of those came on the game’s first two at-bats, allowing Evan Rimer and Nick Capozzi to safely reach base. Holden Owens drove both home with a double into the gap in right-center, giving Polk a quick 2-0 advantage.

The Wolverines could have stopped scoring there. They did not. Capozzi doubled in Rimer and Owens singled home Capozzi in the second. Clark Phipps drove home one run in the third – Wilson Edwards, who stole second and third as a pinch runner – with a sacrifice fly and two more scored with two outs as a Capozzi fly to deep left-center eluded the Heritage defense, falling for a two-run double.

At the same time, Polk’s defense helped keep the shutout intact. Capozzi raced to the left-field foul line and made a diving catch in the fourth. Chris Phipps charged in and snared a fly ball at knee level in right field for the second out of the fifth.

And with Polk adding two more runs in both the fourth and fifth innings, sending them to the bottom of the fifth up eleven, every out moved the Wolverines a step closer to the prize they coveted.

“Right after we were done last season, we had a bad taste in our mouths,” Alm said. “The guys started working come June, getting into the weight room and being down at the field all the time and here we are. Hard work pays off.”

Owens finished 3-for-3 with three RBI, Capozzi was 2-for-4 with three RBI and Phipps had two RBI to pace Polk County’s 12-hit attack. Kropp also finished 2-for-3.

In the end, the postgame celebration was routine, save for the Gatorade bath given to Alm as he finished shaking almost every hand in sight. Five regular-season games remain on the schedule, then Polk will turn its attention to winning its first playoff game since 2011.

“Our first goal was to win the 1A (portion of the WHC),” Alm said. “Our second goal was to win the conference. Our third goal is to win 20 games, which has never been done.

“We’re not done yet.”