CONNELLY SPRINGS – In many ways, East Burke displayed the type of court presence Tuesday that Polk County hopes to achieve.
Shooting well from the perimeter. Able to push the ball up the floor with tempo or settle into a half-court offense. Aggressive defense, forcing turnovers, turning those into points.
The Cavaliers did all that and did it well, pulling away in the second half to hand the Wolverines a 77-40 setback in the opening round of the state 2A playoffs.
East Burke (25-2) will host a second-round game Thursday against East Surry. Polk County sees its season end with a 13-13 record.
The final margin didn’t fully reflect the competitiveness of the game. East Burke did quickly serve notice that they intended to rebound from last week’s loss to Newton-Conover that snapped a 21-game winning streak, the Cavaliers hitting four 3-pointers in the first four minutes to race to a 16-2 advantage.
But Polk County held its own from that point until halftime. The Wolverines closed the second quarter with a 9-0 run, capped by a Bailey Staton 3-pointer from just inside halfcourt at the buzzer, that shot banking through to cut East’s lead to 35-22 at the break.
But East freshman Kara Brinkley drilled a 3-pointer to open the third quarter and start a run that gave the Cavaliers a 44-24 advantage with 2:38 left in the period. With foul trouble a growing issue, the Wolverines were unable to muster another comeback.
“They play well with each other. They know where each other is going to cut. As soon as the ball goes to the win, they know they’ve looking baseline, short corner, high post, back to the back side,” said Polk County head coach Brandy Alm of East Burke, which has won at least 20 games in six of the past eight seasons.
“The effort was there. We never quit, we never gave up. We continued to do a lot of little things well.”
East Burke’s Braelyn Stilwell scored 16 of her game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter to spark the Cavaliers. Taylor Bostian had four of East’s 10 3-pointers and finished with 12 points, as did Brinkley.
Polk’s roster included just one senior, Kayleigh Wilson. Every player who scored in the game for Polk will return next season, and that has Alm excited about the future.
“We’re a very young team, and they’re going to commit to playing this summer and getting better and we’ll see what we can do next year,” she said.
Staton led Polk County with 13 points, with Mia Bradley scoring 12. Kylie Lewis had six points, with Sarah Gray scoring three and Brianna Gray, Charley Dusenbury and Jayden Duncan each adding two.