Pitchers’ duel doesn’t end Polk County’s way in 2-1 baseball playoff loss

Polk County senior Tyler Harris pitched a gem in his final career start, striking out 11 and allowing just four hits.

MOORESVILLE – One break. One bad-hop grounder, one seeing-eye single, one dying flare. Polk County just needed one of them here Tuesday night.

By the third round of the state playoffs, teams expect to see quality pitching, to see scoreless battles like the one Lincoln Charter’s Matthew Upchurch and Polk County’s Tyler Harris waged. Good pitching? Harris didn’t give up a hit until the sixth inning; Upchurch only gave up three in five and a third.

Hits were at a premium; runs even more so. Lincoln Charter, though, got one more of them in the end, pushing across the game-winner in the bottom of the eighth to hand Polk County a 2-1 setback in a 1A playoff classic.

It brought an end to the best season in Polk County history, the Wolverines finishing a magical 20-4-1 campaign that will not soon be forgotten. Polk County players and fans clung to that while listening to Lincoln Charter (20-5) celebrate across Moor Park.

That and the effort they displayed Tuesday.

“We came here and we gave them hell,” said Polk County head coach Billy Alm.

The Wolverines put at least one runner on base in every inning but the eighth, but saw three of those run into outs on the basepaths, including one on a brilliant hidden ball trick. Polk left seven runners on base in the eight innings.

Yet it was the Wolverines who struck first, snapping a scoreless tie in the top of the sixth on Kaleb Kropp’s two-out RBI double, a line drive into the right-field corner that brought home Wilson Edwards.

Hitless at that point, Lincoln Charter broke through for its first in the bottom of the sixth as Ryan Restino singled up the middle to open the frame. With two outs and Restino on second, lefthander Jackson Farnsworth hammered a drive off the wall in right-center, the double driving in Restino to tie the game.

The Eagles then fashioned their walk-off rally in the bottom of the eighth. Tank Fricker drew a leadoff walk, then moved to second when Farnsworth singled with one out. Harris had to leave the mound at that point due to reaching the state-mandated limit of 105 pitches.

Zach Horton worked a walk from reliever Kyler Scruggs before Spencer Bright bounced a single through Polk’s drawn-in infield, allowing Fricker to score.

Upchurch and Farnsworth combined to allow just four hits and strike out 14. Harris, in his final Polk County start, struck out 11 and gave up just four hits in seven and a third innings of work. Throw in his scoreless inning in the second-round win over North Stokes, and Harris allowed one run with 14 strikeouts in eight and a third innings in the postseason.

“He came here focused right out of the gate,” Alm said. “He had an extra three or four miles per hour on his fastball. He was wheeling and dealing. I wish we could have done more for him.”

Harris, Evan Rimer, Kropp and Clark Phipps each had a hit for the Wolverines.