WAYNESVILLE – In so many ways, Monday brought the perfect ending to a storybook season for Polk County Middle School’s boys basketball squad.
Steps away from the football field where one undefeated dream ended earlier this year, the Wolverines made certain another did not, leading Waynesville Middle from start to finish for a 57-35 victory in the Blue Ridge Middle School Conference tournament championship game in a gym packed with nearly as many Polk backers as Waynesville supporters.
Facing perhaps their most formidable foe of the season, a fundamentally sound 13-2 Mountaineers squad with an average margin of victory this season of more than 20 points, Polk County relied on the formula that never let it down all season – aggressive defense, explosive offense and a will to win evident in all who took the court.
The Wolverines never trailed in completing a 15-0 season, the first undefeated basketball campaign in school history and the program’s second Blue Ridge championship in the past three seasons.
“Coach (Rick) Casey and I have five years of doing basketball together and we’ve been together six years in football, and this is the first undefeated season we’ve had,” said Polk head coach Billy Alm. “I thank him for all the hard work and help he gave me.
“It’s a good feeling to be able to match my wife (Polk Middle coach Brandy Alm, who led the Wolverine volleyball squad to a perfect record this season).”
The mood wasn’t quite as upbeat the last time Alm, Casey and many of the Wolverines were in Waynesville, playing the Mountaineers in the Blue Ridge football conference championship game. Polk also entered that game unbeaten, but left with a heartbreaking 24-22 setback.
For those who played in both that loss and Monday’s game, the memory remained fresh before the opening tip.
“We mentioned it before the game,” Alm said. “I’m proud of them because they brought it up, not me. They told each other to remember the feeling they had when they walked off that field. We left it at that and went out and played some intense basketball.”
Trailing 44-31 in the fourth quarter, Waynesville called a timeout with 4:31 remaining to fashion a strategy most foul – the Mountaineers began fouling Polk players on every possession, a steady stream of hacks and chops that they hoped would lead to a comeback.
Lending support to that approach, the Wolverines hit just three of their first eight foul shots once the slashing began. But the Mountaineers were unable to capitalize; Waynesville didn’t score its first basket of the quarter until 2:43 remained and managed just four points in the final period.
“They heard we were not the best foul shooters,” Alm said. “We missed the first few, but we really calmed down and shot the ball well, I thought.”
It took both teams time to settle into an offensive rhythm. The score stood at 4-4 in the first quarter when Dillion Overholt buried a 3-pointer with 1:33 left in the period to give Polk a 7-4 lead. The Wolverines would hold the edge the rest of the night, including a 9-4 gap at the end of the first.
A DJ Twitty driving layup and 3-pointer from Arnie Twitty upped the advantage to 14-4 early in the second period. Polk then continued to build the lead and grabbed a 20-9 edge on another Twitty 3-pointer with 2:14 remaining in the half.
A technical foul on the Wolverines, though, for leaving a player off the roster in the official scorebook helped spur a 9-2 run as the Mountaineers pulled within four at 22-18. But DJ Twitty scored on a drive, was fouled and hit the free throw with 29 seconds left, and Overholt scored on an ingenious play with four seconds remaining, throwing an inbounds pass off a Waynesville player, grabbing the ball and hitting a layup.
The late spurt made it 27-18 at the half, and Waynesville would get no closer than seven points in the final two quarters.
“That was a tragic accident that was nobody’s fault,” Alm said of the technical. “But we came back and scored five points in just a few seconds. Dillion made a great play there at the end.”
Arnie Twitty scored 25 points to lead Polk County, with DJ Twitty scoring nine and Overholt and Owens each adding eight.
“(Grayson Perkins and Jack Sutton) are their main scorers, and Dillion and Holden covered those guys defensively,” Alm said. “(Perkins) is so good with the body. He made some great moves against Dillion.
“We played a complete game tonight. The boys came out tonight and knew what their job was, and they did it. DJ Twitty, offensively, had a mismatch and worked on it all night. Of course, Arnie did a great job. Holden and Dillion mixed in some shots. Kendal Wilkins played really well on the boards. He put some big baskets back in. Everybody knew they had to bring their A game, and they did.
“This is super satisfying.”
Polk County Scoring
Arnie Twitty 25, DJ Twitty 9, Holden Owens 8, Dillion Overholt 8, Kendal Wilkins 5, Peyton Kemmerlin 2