Polk County welcomed the confidence boost from Friday’s close loss to Landrum, but what the Wolverines really needed, according to head coach Antoni Staley, was a victory, a reward for days of early-season work.
Consider that yearning fulfilled.
Polk County built a big second-half lead Tuesday against Highland Tech, then survived a late Rams rally to take an 84-74 win in a non-conference game at Polk.
The victory marked the first time that Polk County (1-3) has topped the 80-point mark since an 88-83 overtime loss to Cosby, Tenn. on Dec. 22, 2015. It’s also the first time in almost two years that the Wolverines have scored at least 70 points in back-to-back games, Tuesday’s win coming on the heels of Friday’s 72-71 loss to Landrum.
“It’s always good to get a win,” Staley said. “We needed it. To play Landrum the way we played and trying to build some momentum. . . I know they’re tired, and we’ve got a game tomorrow and a game Friday and three away games next week. They’ve been working hard and needed a win.”
The Wolverines built a 10-point lead at the end of the first period, with Markell Lipscomb effective inside early, and still held that margin at the half.
Polk then cranked up its defensive intensity in the third period, forcing the Rams into a handful of turnovers during a 14-2 run that gave the Wolverines a 55-35 edge late in the period. Jaylon Bontrager and Amir Gary hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap that surge.
Polk County led by 26 entering a fourth quarter that soon turned into a frenized track meet up and down the court. In the frenzy, Highland Tech began hitting shots from all over the court and cutting into the Wolverine lead, getting it under double digits with 1:15 remaining and pulling withing six, 77-71, with 57 seconds left.
But Polk hit 6-of-10 free throws in the final minute and the Rams finally missed enough to stop their run, getting no closer than that six-point margin.
Highland Tech scored 37 points in the fourth quarter, matching its total in the first three.
“We put in a press and worked on some smaller stuff this week,” Staley said. “Once it clicked the guys started doing what they were supposed to do. They’re a really scrappy team, and they got after it 100 percent and got the lead up.”
Clark Phipps had 20 points to pace Polk County, with Bontrager adding 17, Lipscomb scoring 13 and Wilson Edwards scoring 10. Gary finished with nine, followed by Seth Hardin with seven, Javontae Miller with four, Jason Fox with three and Peyton Dill with one.
Almost as rewarding as the first win, Staley said, has been working with this year’s team and the school community.
“I’ve played ball a long time, and I haven’t seen a close group like this,” he said. “They stay behind each other and are always picking each other up. I couldn’t ask for anything else.
“The teachers have also helped me out so much, letting me know how the guys are doing so I can make sure to tell them, go straight home, get your homework done. It’s really been like a family, and that helps so much.”
Polk County begins a stretch of four road games in 10 days on Wednesday, traveling to R-S Central.