The celebration that erupted Thursday on Polk County Middle’s bench contained a mixture of joy and frustration-ending relief.
The holidays will be just a bit happier for the Wolverines, who outlasted Rugby Middle for a dramatic 37-36 victory in a key Blue Ridge Conference East Division battle at Polk.
Cate Brown’s basket in the final minute proved the game-winner for the Wolverines (5-2), who kept Rugby (4-3) off the scoreboard for the final 1:54 of the game.
Sofie Abrahamsen’s steal with three seconds remaining clinched the win and triggered the postgame delight for a Wolverine squad that suffered a tough loss earlier in the week at Brevard Middle and also played without starter Beija Olivari, sidelined by an injury.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Polk Middle head coach Michelle Fagan. “It’s been a tough week, but they responded tonight. We’ve talked a lot this week about it being we, not me, and they responded to that.
“We picked it up defensively. We were scrappy and fought for every loose ball. They showed up and responded, and I’m so proud of them.”
The largest lead either team had in the game was five points, that being Polk’s 13-8 advantage in the second period following an Abrahamsen three-point play. Rugby answered with six straight points before Reeve Carroll’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer gave the Wolverines a 16-14 halftime edge.
A back-and-forth second half led to Rugby taking a 36-33 lead with 1:54 remaining. Carroll cut the deficit to one on a driving jumper with 1:19 left, and then Brown gave Polk the lead moments later with her short jumper from the right wing off an inbounds pass.
The Wolverines were solid at the foul line throughout the evening, but missed a pair of chances in the final 40 seconds. Rugby rebounded the final one of those, moved the ball to midcourt and called a timeout with four seconds remaining to set up a final shot for the win.
Abrahamsen, thought, intercepted a Raider pass to deny Rugby that last opportunity.
Carroll had 14 points to lead Polk County, with Brown adding seven, all in the second half. Honesty Jackson stepped in for Olivari and had five points, with Abrahamsen also scoring five.
Amiyah Waters added four points and Raney Tallon scored two for Polk Middle.
The Wolverines will take a break for the holidays before beginning the second half of their season schedule on January 5 at Apple Valley Middle.