They walked out of the postgame dressing room, six in number, and everyone remaining in Polk County Middle School’s gym Tuesday evening stopped and applauded.
It is the nature of sport that, often, those who emerge as winners from competition aren’t those who leave with the largest total on the scoreboard. You could make a very good case that held true Tuesday at PCMS, where the Wolverines had the smallest point total but lost very little beyond the outcome.
A very good Brevard Middle team, co-leaders in the Blue Ridge Conference’s East Division for a reason, left Polk Middle with a 46-31 victory, and that result might well have been the same even if the Wolverines had fielded their full roster in their final home game of this most unusual of seasons.
But empty chairs far outnumbered players on Polk Middle’s bench. Due to pandemic-related quarantines, the Wolverines had just six players available for Tuesday’s game, three eighth graders and three seventh graders. Two of that eighth-grade trio, Eno Baker and James Purtill, had played a full soccer match the previous day. Odds, obviously, did not sit in Polk’s favor.
Nor did the evening shape up as anything but a very long one when Brevard (7-2) raced to a 14-0 lead to open the game, a two-touchdown margin that could easily have demoralized Polk Middle’s playing sextet.
It did not. It has been a hallmark of this Polk Middle team (2-7) this season to stage late rallies, to not give up when victory seemed out of reach. The Wolverines trailed 14 points less than three minutes into the first quarter and 15 points at the final buzzer. That’s three-plus quarters of nearly even basketball against the division leaders with a depleted roster.
“We played six on 15. That’s some of the best heart I’ve ever seem from a team, especially knowing how short-handed they were,” said Polk Middle head coach Josh Money. “They gave all they had, and it took four quarters to beat us.”
Brevard’s opening blitz, 14 points in the first 2:32, likely determined the outcome. Blue Devil guard Bennett Norris did his part to make certain Polk Middle’s resolve didn’t change it, hitting six 3-pointers for his game-high 18 points. The last of those came with less than two minutes left and Polk trailing 41-30 after briefly pulling within nine points, and only after that triple did Brevard’s bench finally exhale.
“Brevard has a very good team,” Money said. “But if we get a few more shots to fall. . .”
Baker finished with 16 points. Avery Hensley had six, with Aaron Jackson scoring five. Nolan Simpson had three, Purtill scored one and Polk’s other playing eighth grader, R.J. Ruff, didn’t score but hauled in a number of rebounds.
Eighth graders not present included Gunnar Alm, Banks Barber, Karlen McEntyre, Karson Scruggs, Connor Ledbetter and Dillon Pruitt. They were missed, and may well be Thursday as well when Polk Middle concludes its season at Rugby.
Their present teammates did all they could in their absence.
“I told the team before the game that hard times like that reveal character,” Money said. “They showed what kind of character they have.
“I will stand side-by-side with those guys any time.”