Polk County had a last-second, unexpected shot to send its meeting Monday with Mountain Heritage into overtime.
That alone shows how well the Wolverines are playing at present.
The Cougars’ 53-50 win at Polk marked their 11th straight victory in the series, matchups that typically haven’t been very close. This one very much was, including a plot twist in the final seconds that gave Polk that final opportunity for a tie.
The Wolverines trailed by five, 53-48, with 3.6 seconds remaining when Chan Barber fouled Mountain Heritage’s Sage Austin while battling for a rebound of a missed Polk shot. Something in that frenzy prompted officials to quickly whistle Austin for a technical.
Austin missed both free throws for the foul on Barber. Polk’s Dominique Carson hit the two foul shots for the technical, and suddenly the Wolverines had the ball at midcourt trailing by three. The inbounds pass went to Carson, who got off a 3-pointer from deep on the right wing that banked just past the far edge of the rim as time expired.
“That’s the closest we’ve been to them since I’ve been here,” said Polk County head coach Lemont Jones. “We had a chance to put the game into overtime and we got the shot we were looking for.
“The kids played hard. We were a lot better here than we were up there (a 68-44 loss). We corrected a lot of things.”
A five-point game at the half turned into a 3-point shooting contest in the third period. The two teams made six threes in the quarter, with the final five baskets of the period all coming from behind the arc.
Another 3-pointer, this one from the Cougars’ Gabe Silvers, and two Austin free throws gave Mountain Heritage (11-0, 10-0) a 43-32 lead with 4:46 left. The advantage was still at 11 with 1:49 remaining when Polk (6-3, 5-3) began to rally.
Shaq Wingo hit a 3-pointer, and Carson followed with three free throws while being fouled on another 3-point attempt to slice the margin to 47-42. Two Silvers’ free throws with 28 seconds left made it 49-42, but Tyler Staley drew another foul on a 3-point attempt and hit all three foul shots to make the score 49-45.
Silvers sandwiched four more free throws around a Carson 3-pointer to make it 53-48 and set the stage for the final frantic seconds.
Polk County didn’t have post players Brett Bagwell and Kanye Staley in that first meeting, and their presence helped the Wolverines early. Mountain Heritage placed 6-5 senior Logan Higgins on Carson, Polk’s leading scorer, and that alignment helped limit Carson to just two points in the first three quarters.
A spirited Wolverine lineup, though, battled to a 16-16 deadlock at the end of the first quarter. Mountain Heritage opened the second period with a 9-0 run, but Polk responded a 5-1 spurt to trail 26-21 at the half.
Mountain Heritage hit 22-of-31 foul shots in the game to Polk County’s 12-of-14. Silvers was 10-of-11 at the line to key his game-high 23 points, including a perfect 6-of-6 in the fourth period.
Tyler Staley led Polk County with 14 points, with Carson scoring 13, all in the final quarter. Wingo had six points, with Wesley Royster adding five and Bagwell scoring four.
Kria Littlejohn and Barber each had three points, with Kanye Staley adding two.
Polk County now travels to Mitchell on Wednesday for a showdown that will likely decide the WHC’s automatic berth to the 1A playoffs.
“The big one comes Wednesday,” Jones said. “I hope we have a little left in the gas tank.”