Polk Middle shakes off slow start to win tournament opener

It certainly wasn’t the start that Polk County Middle desired Wednesday.

The finish, though, proved very satisfying.

The Wolverines shook off a sluggish first quarter, relying on its defense and rebounding to key a 32-15 victory over Bethel Middle in the opening round of the Blue Ridge Conference Tournament.

Polk Middle (11-2) moved on to a 4:30 p.m. semifinal matchup Thursday at home against Waynesville Middle (10-3). The Mountaineers defeated the Wolverines earlier this season.

Polk Middle managed just a single point in the first quarter, struggling to get shots to fall and also going an uncharacteristic 1-for-6 at the foul line in the period.

But the Wolverines also largely kept Bethel off the scoreboard, the Demons leading just 4-1 early in the second period when Polk’s Bailey Staton scored three times in less than a minute. That flurry seemed to spark Polk’s offense, and the Wolverines never trailed again.

“We didn’t give up. We just kept plugging away,” said Polk Middle head coach Michelle Fagan. “We made some defensive adjustments in the second half against their guards that worked in our favor.”

Staton canned a long 3-pointer to end the first half and give Polk a 16-6 lead at the break. The Wolverines continued to build that margin in the third period, using a 10-3 run to take a 17-point bulge into the final period.

Bethel tallied twice to open the fourth quarter and cut the deficit to 13, but a Reeve Carroll steal led to a Staton layup, Charley Dusenbury hit two free throws and Carroll scored on a fast break to build the advantage back to 32-13 with 2:37 remaining.

Staton finished with 21 points to lead Polk Middle, with Carroll and Dusenbury each scoring four. Leah Dotson added three points.

“I’m proud of them,” Fagan said. “We’re looking forward to (Thursday).”

Polk Middle’s Kaylynne Holbert battles for control in the paint during the first half of Wednesday’s matchup

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