If Polk County is to take a 2A baseball playoff journey this season, the Wolverines are going to have to first become winning road warriors.
When the Wolverines return from spring break and travel to Avery County on Tuesday, it will mark the start of five scheduled road games in a two-week span, a stretch that will determine whether Polk County will advance to 2A playoff competition or see its season end with the regular season finale at East Henderson.
A look at the current Western Highlands Conference standings (unofficial) shows Polk County currently in fifth place, its six-game losing streak having dropped the Wolverines to 3-5 in league play. The WHC receives three state playoff berths, and while there is one wild card available in the 2A West bracket, Polk County’s best shot is to earn one of those three automatic spots to reach the postseason.
The Wolverines, though, are not out of the race, but will need some help as well as a late-season winning streak to climb into the top three.
Polk County currently sits a game and a half behind Mountain Heritage for fourth and two games behind Owen for third. The Wolverines’ remaining conference schedule includes trips to Avery, Mitchell and Owen as well as a home date with Hendersonville. The Wolverines must win three of those four, and possibly all four, to have a shot at moving into the top three in the WHC race, as it looks likely that the third-place team will have no more than six conference losses.
Owen and Mountain Heritage are the key teams to watch for Polk County’s playoff hopes.
Owen, at 5-3, still has two games left with second-place Madison, a date with league leader Hendersonville and a home game with Polk County. The Wolverines need Owen to lose two, probably three, of those to catch the Warhorses in the league race. Owen dropped a 3-1 decision to Mountain Heritage on Thursday that helped open the door for both Heritage and Polk County.
Mountain Heritage has games remaining with Mitchell, Avery and Madison and could easily finish at least 7-5 in league play. Its 4-3 win over Polk County in the Wolverines’ last game before break started a three-game winning streak. The Cougars split their season series with Polk, so if the Wolverines do finish 7-5 or 6-6 and tied with Heritage, a tiebreaker would determine the playoff qualifier.
Madison sits in second place in the league race at 5-2 and, with five conference games remaining, has the busiest remaining schedule. The Patriots still must face Owen twice as well as Mountain Heritage, Avery and Mitchell. But having swept Polk County this season and with conference losses only to Hendersonville, it’s hard to imagine the Wolverines surpassing Madison in the league race.
Undefeated Hendersonville needs just one win in its final three conference games to wrap up the league title.
Mitchell and Avery have struggled this season, but as 1A schools, neither will factor in the 2A playoff picture other than perhaps playing spoiler for one of the 2A squads.