Zach Foy rounded third and steamed toward home with the winning run Wednesday night, and all Polk County head coach Billy Alm could think of was that he might never have been part of a better game.
Senior Night at Polk County ended with two seniors making the plays that gave the Wolverines their biggest win of the year, a dramatic 4-3 walk-off victory over Owen that denied the Warhorses a conference championship and gave Polk County a season sweep of their Swannanoa Valley rivals.
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The final game of the regular season, the final home game for six Polk County seniors, came to a fitting finish that no doubt some of that group will be retelling years from now.
After keeping the game tied with a defensive gem in the top of the seventh, Phipps delivered at the plate in the inning’s bottom half. Foy drew a one-out walk off Owen starter Brian Bartlett, who had retired eight consecutive batters to that point, including three straight by strikeout, and seemed to be growing stronger with every pitch.
Phipps then singled sharply through the right side of the infield, Foy having to do a hop, skip and jump to avoid the baseball as it bounded past. The baseball also rolled past an Owen outfielder, and by the time a Warhorse finally tracked it down near the right-field fence, Foy was barreling toward home, his smile growing with each step.
Foy crossed the plate standing up; the Wolverine dugout immediately erupted and mobbed him. The pack ran onto the field to mob Phipps. Screams and shouts of joy and celebration from fans and players alike filled the night. Owen players pulled their uniforms over their heads. One ran off the field and punched the dugout wall.
It was a chaotic, emotional, almost magical ending.
“Like I told the boys, that was the best game I’ve ever been part of,” Alm said. “They fought all game, they were intense all game and had energy.
“To do that for these seniors is incredible.”
Ending its season at 9-11, 7-5 in Western Highlands Conference play, Polk County will hold its breath until Monday to see if a 2A playoff berth awaits. Owen, which would have won the WHC regular-season title with a win thanks to owning a tiebreaker over Mountain Heritage, ends its year at 11-8, 9-3.
Polk County could thank Foy and Phipps not only for their heroics in the bottom of the seventh, but their efforts in the top. The Wolverines’ third pitcher of the night, Foy allowed a leadoff single, but then retired three straight Warhorses. One of those was Owen cleanup hitter Kobe Bartlett, who hammered a line drive to right that Phipps tracked down with a running, one-hand catch while racing toward the fence.
“Brett Phipps is the hero of the night,” Alm said. “He dropped back to catch that ball, then came through for us with that last hit.”
Polk County grabbed an early advantage, scoring three runs in the first inning. Two of those runs came on Holden Owens’ double to left-center, his 38th hit of the season, matching Andre Overholt’s single-season school record. Owens then moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Nick Capozzi’s grounder to give the Wolverines their 3-0 lead.
Owen put together a two-run rally in the fourth, then tied the game in the fifth while Brian Bartlett kept the Wolverine offense in check.
The score would remain deadlocked until the magical final inning, capping a night in which every Polk County senior – Foy, Phipps, Bailey Livesay, Chris Lawrence, Donivan Twitty and Zach Johnson – started and contributed.
“I talked about it with the coaching staff, and we felt that it was the last time these seniors would play on this field, let’s get them out there and see what they can do,” Alm said. “It worked out for us.”