Forget the what-ifs and could-have-beens, Billy Alm said in an emotional postgame huddle with his Polk County Wolverines. Focus on the positives. Look forward.
Pride, rather than disappointment, colored his words. It continued to do so as he talked about the Wolverines’ 8-7 loss to North Moore Tuesday evening in the opening round of the state 1A baseball playoffs at The Bottoms.
“We put our heart and soul into that game,” Alm said, voice cracking. “We had one bad inning. We were down 8-3. We came back and fought to the last pitch. That’s all I can ask.”
North Moore (9-4) held off a late Polk County rally to earn a second-round trip to Lincoln Charter. Polk County’s season ends at 8-7, with plenty of positives on which to focus as the Wolverines prepare to move next season to the 2A level and a new conference.
It may take a bit of time, though, to not dwell on all the what-ifs from Tuesday’s outcome.
The Wolverines played five excellent innings, hitting as well as they have all season and delivering solid defense behind starter Micah Hill. Polk held a 3-1 lead entering the top of the sixth when the gentle breeze that had blown through The Bottoms all evening grew a little stronger and perhaps brought a change of fortune with it.
North Moore’s Ty Allred homered to open the sixth, and a single and two hit batters followed to load the bases with no outs. Hill got one out on a strikeout before a perfect suicide squeeze bunt by Collin Dunlap brought in another run to make it 3-3.
Logan Ritter followed with a line drive to left to bring home the go-ahead run and leave runners on first and third. As Hill prepared to pitch to North Moore’s next hitter, Ritter broke for second, inducing a throw that hopped into center field and allowed another run to score for a 5-3 North Moore advantage.
The top of the seventh began benignly as reliever Bryson Edwards retired the first two batters. The next two batters were hit by pitches – four in two innings seemed very much more than coincidence – before Gabriel Swarms singled to left to drive in one run. As Polk tried to retire a North Moore runner at third, throw eluded glove and wound up in the left-field corner, allowing two more runs to score and make it an 8-3 game.
Those final two runs would prove more than vital as Polk County refused to go quietly into the night.
Edwards singled with one out in the bottom of the seventh, racing all the way to third as an outfield error allowed the base hit to roll to the fence. Angus Weaver followed with a base hit to right, plating Edwards to make it 8-4.
With two outs, Jackson Beiler singled to move Weaver to third. Hill, down to his final strike, then hammered a towering drive to right-center that settled beyond the fence, clearing the bases and cutting North Moore’s edge to 8-7.
Hill was always going to be the final batter for North Moore starter Robert Garner due to pitch count rules. He stepped aside for Clayton Allred, who got the final out to end Wolverine hopes of a miracle rally.
The hard-throwing Garner finished with nine strikeouts, but allowed 11 hits and seven earned runs.
“We’ve struggled hitting speed, so we spent the past two days working on that,” Alm said. “We came out tonight and barreled up a lot of balls.”
Polk took a 3-0 lead in the second as Jackson Beiler, Hill and Jon Edwards all singled to open the inning, with courtesy runner Shane Parris scoring on Edwards’ hit. With two outs, Alex Tipton stroked a single to right that drove in courtesy runner Evan Jones and Edwards for the three-run bulge.
The Wolverines left a runner on base in each of the first four innings, then left two in the bottom of the fifth. Beiler was 3-for-4, with Hill 2-for-4 with three RBI and Coble Cameron also 2-for-4. Tipton, Bryson Edwards, Weaver, and Jon Edwards each added a hit.
North Moore had just five hits and Hill and Bryson Edwards teamed to strike out nine while walking one. The four hit batters in the final two innings – and six for the game – would prove instrumental.
But, postgame, the Wolverines were not dwelling on the what-ifs and could-have-beens. Workouts for the 2022 season start next week.
“The program is moving in the right direction,” Alm said. “The kids worked their tails off for this being one of the craziest years ever.”
And that is one thing never to forget.