Polk County’s Jaylon Bontrager

The scoreboard didn’t reflect it at night’s end, but Polk County head boys basketball coach Antoni Staley saw much he liked in Tuesday’s season opener with East Henderson.

Tops on that list – a packed Polk County gym.

The Wolverines gave that home crowd plenty to cheer about in spurts, but couldn’t produce enough offensive consistency to stay with the Eagles in a 69-55 setback in the season opener for both teams.

East Henderson’s Austin Messer had six 3-pointers, several to squelch Polk County runs, and finished with 22 points as the Eagles led from start to finish. A 16-5 run to close the second period – keyed by a Messer 3-pointer – proved the killer for the Wolverines, who trailed 38-23 at the half and got no closer than seven points the rest of the night.

“We learned a lot of things,” said Staley, making his Polk County coaching debut. “There were some two-minute spurts where we played like we’re supposed to play. Every time we did, there were five different people on the floor, so that’s (numerous) different combinations we can use.

“There were a lot of good things. I saw some aggressiveness from certain people. (Jaymes) Wingo stepped up. He’s had one practice, and he stepped up. We need to work some kinks out. I’m not making excuses, because we want results.”

Staley also hopes to see more crowds like Tuesday’s.

“Overwhelmed,” he said about the fans who filled the home stands. The visitor’s side of the court was also more than half full. “The kids really appreciated that. It meant a lot to them to come out and see that.”

East Henderson scored the first seven points of the game, but Polk steadily fought bback, getting 3-pointers from Wingo and Amir Gary to close within 15-12 late in the first period.

Another 3-pointer and a short jumper by Wingo made it 22-18 midway through the second quarter. Messer then drilled a 3-pointer from the wing and added another during the Eagles’ surge to their 15-point halftime lead.

Polk County roared out of the dressing room and scored the first eight points of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 38-31. The Eagles scored four quick points to stop the run, then built the margin to 50-35 before a Clark Phipps 3-pointer cut the gap to 50-38 entering the final period.

But Messer hit back-to-back 3-points to open the final quarter for a 56-38 cushion and the Eagles kept the lead in double digits the rest of the game.

Wingo finished with 12 points to lead Polk County, with Holden Owens adding eight.

Polk County travels to Landrum on Tuesday for a non-conference clash at 8 p.m.

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