Passion. Emotion. Drama. Determination.
Aren’t those the things that make sports great? Aren’t those the reasons we gather, we watch, we cheer, we celebrate?
Two teams sharing one goal amply displayed all of those qualities Thursday. For 24 minutes they ran and defended and clashed and collided with an intensity that at times made one wonder if all would make it to the final buzzer.
But make it, they did, battling to the final seconds before an outcome emerged. That end left Waynesville Middle a point better than Polk Middle, earning a trip to the Blue Ridge Conference girls basketball tournament championship with a 27-26 victory before a loud, engaged Polk crowd.
It was the proverbial shame-one-team-had-to-lose kind of game. Neither team ever led by more than five points, and even that margin was short-lived. All of the second half was played with the teams within three points of each other, added tension for a matchup intense from the outset.
That old cliche about leaving it all on the floor? Players routinely bumped and crashed and found themselves left prone. Polk County athletic trainer John Ruth spent as much time on the court in the second half as some players.
Waynesville (11-3) held that five-point lead briefly in the second period. Polk (11-3) fought back within a point at the half, then took the lead early in the third quarter as Polk’s Bailey Staton scored five straight points for a Wolverine 18-14 advantage late in the third.
Injuries slowed the game’s pace for a time, but those breaks provided only brief respite before a frenzied, back-and-forth final quarter. Polk would lead by three, then one, then three, then one and so on throughout the quarter, taking its last lead at 26-23 with 1:07 remaining.
Waynesville’s Kendall Williamson scored with 45 seconds left to cut the margin to one. The Mountaineers regained possession of the ball after a wild scramble on the Wolverines’ end, and headed upcourt. The ball, and most of the players on the court, wound up in the right corner, a shot finally emerging and sailing over the rim to Williamson, all alone on the other side. She grabbed the ball and calmly put back a layup that gave the Mountaineers a one-point edge with nine seconds to play.
Polk plotted its strategy during its last timeout, and its plan nearly worked, the Wolverines getting a short jumper as time ticked away that just fell off the rim. Waynesville snared the rebound, ran out the final two seconds and joyously celebrated.
Polk Middle’s players dabbed at tears as they awaited postgame handshakes. In time, though, they’ll realize the beauty of this game and of a day in which each gave all in pursuit of a common goal.
And all those who were fortunate to watch? Truly, they were the day’s winners.