George Alley wasn’t completely pleased with Polk County’s focus at times during Monday’s home opener. Thought the Wolverines didn’t finish scoring opportunities as well as they should have.
But the end result of a steamy evening in G.M. Tennant Stadium suited Alley just fine.
Polk County overcame an early second-half lapse and Madison comeback, scoring twice in less than a minute later in the night to secure a 5-3 non-conference victory over the visiting Patriots.
The win lifted the Wolverines to 1-0-1 in the young season, a record notable for the fact that it’s the first time since the end of the COVID-delayed 2020 season, in March 2021, that Polk County owns a record above .500.
“Overall, our first home win,” Alley said. “Important for them, and then you hopefully get some lessons there that sink home.”
One bit of learning that Alley would certainly like to see the Wolverines retain is the need to remain honed in for a full 80 minutes.
Polk County built a 3-0 halftime lead, but Madison erased that in a span of less than five minutes early in the second half, with forward Avery Holland scoring all three goals to even the match in the first 10 minutes of the period. Holland scored on a penalty kick, a fluke uncontested goal due to confusion over an official’s call and then on a hard drive from deep in the penalty area in the 50th minute.
Stunned for a moment, the Wolverines quickly responded. Blake Anderson flicked a pass deep into Madison’s end of the field that bounced off a couple of players and to the feet of Sebastian Azar, who took one touch and struck a drive from the left wing that comfortably settled into the upper right corner of the net, restoring Polk’s advantage at 4-3.
The Wolverines added an insurance goal 40 seconds later. Anderson intercepted a pass near midfield, dribbled through and into the right side of Madison’s defense and fired a shot from some 25 yards out that also found the net, upping the margin to 5-3.
The Wolverines then focused on slowing Holland, and that also stalled the Patriots’ hopes of a comeback.
“I give a lot of credit to Madison. I thought they came out and played a much better second half,” Alley said. “We figured out how to shut (Holland) down. Had to add another defender. He’s a good player with good speed.
“We missed (injured senior defender Jasper Azar). Not only is he physical and fast, but he’s actually our communicator back there.”
The match sat scoreless through the first 16 minutes before Thomas Varnadore scored, tapping a slow roller past a charging Madison goalkeeper that meandered its way into the goal.
The Wolverines added another goal in the 25th minute as Nate Martinez chipped a perfect pass deep into the right side of the Madison penalty area, the flick taking one bounce before Riley Ballentine struck the ball just past the goalkeeper, upping Polk’s edge to 2-0.
The lead grew to three in the final 90 seconds of the half as Azar scored his first of the evening.
“We had some issues with pregame focus,” Alley said. “I love the camaraderie between the junior varsity and varsity, but I’m not sure that they’re really focusing before a game and we came really prepared to play.
“I thought we came out a little slow. They got going and were creating chances, but we just need to finish more of those chances. But it could have been 5-0. So even though we did score five goals, we still need some finishing practice.”
Polk County continues its non-conference start to the season on Wednesday, hosting North Carolina School of Science & Math – Morganton in a 6 p.m. contest. That match will also be streamed live on NFHS Network.