Outside Polk County Middle School’s gym Thursday afternoon, heavy rain and a rare winter thunderstorm raged.
Inside the gym, though, Waters ran calm and cool.
With pounding rain and screaming fans making for a cacophony of chaos, Polk Middle’s Amiyah Waters quietly hit three free throws with 15 seconds remaining, helping lift the Wolverines to a frenetic 21-19 victory over Flat Rock Middle.
The Wolverines improved to 7-3 with the win – Flat Rock dropped to 0-10 – and remained tied with Rugby for second place in the Blue Ridge Conference East Division entering the final week of the season. Top two teams in the division earn a first-round home playoff game, so Thursday’s win proved especially important for that reason.
It also offered Polk Middle a boost of confidence as the Wolverines played without starting guards and leading scorers Cate Brown and Reeve Carroll, both absent. That meant frontcourt players such as Sofie Abrahamsen, Honesty Jackson and Waters often were tasked with working the ball upcourt against Flat Rock’s full-court press and then running the Wolverine offense.
“For us to be down some players, the girls really stepped up and played hard,” said Polk Middle head coach Michelle Fagan. “We had a lot of players in different positions that they’ve not had to to play before. I’m really proud of the girls.”
That pride certainly encircled Waters, who delivered in perhaps the most testing circumstances possible.
Polk Middle trailed 18-17 when a Wolverine player was called for a foul with 15 seconds remaining. A Flat Rock player was also whistled for a technical foul in the moments after the foul.
Flat Rock’s Kiyra Bass hit one of two free throws to make it 19-17. Polk’s Raney Tallon then started to shoot the free throws for the technical, but amid a din of yelling from the scorer’s table and Flat Rock bench came the realization that Tallon had reached five fouls and was thus out of the game.
So Waters stepped to the foul line, noise in the gym almost deafening. Players on Flat Rock’s bench came onto the court to join the attempt to distract Waters, who made the first of the technical free throws and just missed the second, cutting Flat Rock’s lead to 19-18.
But a second technical was called on the Eagles, apparently for the bench players coming onto the court. That sent Waters back to the foul line, enraged Flat Rock coaches and fans and hiked the noise level just a bit more.
No problem for Waters – she calmly swished both foul shots to give Polk a 20-19 advantage. Abrahamsen added another free throw with 13 seconds remaining, and Flat Rock missed its attempt at a tying basket.
“Amiyah came through and was clutch for us at the end,” Fagan said. “That was huge, especially for a seventh grader.”
Tallon had nine points for Polk, with Waters scoring four. Jackson and Abrahamsen each had three and Beija Olivari had two points.
Polk Middle concludes its three-game homestand and will play its final regular-season home game on Wednesday as Brevard Middle visits.