They finally had to turn out the lights Thursday night at Polk County Middle School to get fans to leave the school gym. No one who witnessed the Wolverines’ magical win over Hendersonville Middle seemed ready to go.
Or were too emotionally spent to do so.
Down nine points late in the third period, Polk County rallied for a 44-38 victory in front of a near-capacity, towel-waving, delighted-beyond-belief crowd gathered for the Wolverines’ final home game of the regular season. The win kept alive Polk County’s undefeated season and clinched the school’s third Blue Ridge Middle School Conference Eastern Division title in the past four seasons.
Those gathered on both sides got their money’s worth, and then some, from an emotional game that featured huge lead swings throughout. In playing their closest game of the season, the Wolverines (10-0) led by 11 points in the second quarter, trailed by nine in the third and finished the fourth in front by six.
“We faced some adversity for the first time,” said Polk County head coach Billy Alm. “We calmed down after the one timeout and kept chipping away and chipping away until we took the lead and we never gave it back.”
As the Wolverines began to rally in the fourth, head girls basketball coach Brandy Alm at one point walked the length of the home stands, urging the Polk crowd to stand. They did so and never sat down again, their enthusiasm soon rewarded.
Down 32-26 with 5:28 remaining, Polk scored six points in a span of 39 seconds to tie the game. Hendersonville briefly retook the lead, but Kendal Wilkins put back a missed shot to even the score at 34, then Arnie Twitty scored on back-to-back possessions to give the Wolverines a 38-34 lead with 2:39 remaining. With the Bearcats struggling against Polk’s defense, Dillion Overholt scored on a drive to the basket and DJ Twitty hit a layup to complete a 10-0 Polk run good for a 42-34 lead with two minutes remaining.
Hendersonville’s Tykel Landrum banked in a short jumper with 1:30 remaining, and the Bearcats followed a missed Polk free throw with another score to pull within 42-38 with 38 seconds remaining. But Hendersonville waited until 16 seconds remained to foul, and Arnie Twitty hit one of two free throws at that point. The Bearcats failed to score before Holden Owens hit a free throw with one second left to close out the scoring.
“We needed that one,” Alm said. “That was a big win as we get ready to go into the tournament, where we’ll play some tough teams. That’s a big confidence builder.”
Polk County entered the game with an average margin of victory this season of 20 points, and the Wolverines seemed on track early to match that. Owens hit a 3-pointer to spark a 7-1 run to end the first quarter, and the Wolverines then scored the first five points of the second on a Peyton Kemmerlin three-point play and two Arnie Twitty free throws to take an 18-7 lead. But Hendersonville began clamping down on Polk’s inside game and controlling the boards, cutting the deficit to 21-18 at the half.
The Bearcats then exploded at the start of the third quarter, working the ball inside to Tyrese Cavley and stopping Polk’s offense unlike anyone has all season. Hendersonville scored the first 12 points of the quarter, holding Polk scoreless for more than six minutes while building a 30-21 lead. Arnie Twitty hit a free throw at the 1:42 mark to stop that run, then added a short jumper before Overholt added another to pull Polk within 30-26 at quarter’s end.
“They played really tight man-to-man and didn’t give us much breathing room,” Alm said. “Our guys don’t see that much, so that rattled us a little bit.”
Arnie Twitty scored 16 points to lead Polk, which also got eight points from Owens and Overholt.
“Right now, we’re the division champions. We clinched that tonight,” Alm said. “I’m proud of the boys. They’ve worked very hard all season.”
Polk County Scoring
Arnie Twitty 16, Holden Owens 8, Dillion Overholt 8, DJ Twitty 7, Peyton Kemmerlin 3, Kendal Wilkins 2