Late rally helps Polk snap baseball playoff drought

Polk County senior Wilson Edwards celebrates Friday after the Wolverines evened the score at 1-1 in the sixth inning.

As North Stokes pitcher Layton Helms sliced through Polk County’s lineup Friday night, Wolverine head coach Billy Alm kept urging his team to be patient, that getting one leadoff batter on base could change the tone of the game.

How right Alm proved to be.

Polk County broke open a pitcher’s duel with a five-run sixth inning, pushing the Wolverines past the Vikings to a 5-1 victory in the second round of the state 1A baseball playoffs.

Polk County (20-3-1) will face either Lincoln Charter or North Moore in next week’s third round. Those two teams meet Saturday at 5 p.m.

Alm collected game-used balls after the win and set them aside, and for good reason:

* Polk County won its first playoff game since 2011
* The Wolverines reached 20 wins for the first time in school history
* Starter Avery Edwards earned his ninth win of the season, matching the school record shared by Timmy McCurry, Nick Jolley and Brandon Jolley.

“Our third goal this season was to reach 20 wins, which has never been done here,” Alm said. “We reached it tonight, and I’m very proud.

“They owned us. Their pitcher (Helms) is tough, and he owned us for five innings. We finally got that leadoff walk and we took advantage of it.”

Clark Phipps drew that walk to open the bottom of the sixth, ending a string of 13 straight batters retired by Helms, a Winston-Salem State signee, and giving Polk its first baserunner since the first inning.

A wild pitch allowed Phipps to move to second, and a passed ball brought him to third. Grayson Jones then dropped a near-perfect bunt down the first-base line that Helms reached, but bobbled and dropped in trying to throw out Phipps at home. That allowed Phipps to score with the tying run.

Jones moved to third on two passed balls, Evan Rimer drew a walk and stole second. That set the stage for Nick Capozzi who drilled a hard grounder through the infield and into center, driving home Jones and Rimer for a 3-1 lead.

Two-out RBI singles by Kaleb Kropp and Elijah Sutton gave the Wolverines a four-run advantage.

Senior Tyler Harris made that lead stand, coming on in relief and striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh.

“We knew we could run on them and use our speed,” Alm said. “We wanted to play small ball, but we needed to get the leadoff runner on base. Once we did, we put pressure on them and were able to make things happen.”

Edwards allowed two hits and struck out four in the win, with Helms allowing five hits and striking out eight. Owens finished 1-for-2 and Kropp, Harris, Sutton and Capozzi were all 1-for-3.

North Stokes ends its season at 17-11.