Polk County's Sophia Overholt tips a shot away from Cherokee's defense during the opening set of Saturday's match

What at first looked to be a runaway Saturday then appeared to be heading the other way.

But as has happened so often this season, Polk County found a way.

A way that led directly to the 1A West Regional championship match.

The Wolverines moved within a step of a state final appearance, holding off Cherokee 25-12, 25-13, 25-27, 25-18 in a nearly-packed PCHS gym on a warm October afternoon.

Polk County (25-3) will host Highland Tech (29-2) on Tuesday in the West Regional final. It is the fourth regional final appearance in program history and the third under head coach Molly Hill, who coached her 250th match Saturday.

It will mark the first time a regional final has been played at Polk County.

“It’s huge,” Hill said. “It has been so huge to host all of our games and have the home-court advantage and not had to travel. It’s going to be exciting.”

Saturday’s match never lacked for excitement, either. Polk County raced to a 10-2 lead in the first set and steadily pulled away to claim that one, then put together a 12-6 run midway through the second set en route to taking that set and building a 2-0 lead.

But Cherokee (24-4) began to find its offensive rhythm in the third set at roughly the same time that Polk began to lose its momentum. Part of the Braves’ success lay in setting freshman standout Joscelyn Stamper, who had three big kills during a five-point spurt that gave Cherokee an 18-13 lead.

Polk County battled back, fought off a set point at 24-23 and served for the match at 25-24. But Cherokee won that point, and the Braves’ Arden Arkansas followed with a kill and block to seal the set.

Polk edged out to a 10-7 lead in the fourth set, but Cherokee came back and grabbed a 15-13 edge, leading Hill to call a timeout.

It proved to be a break well spent.

Polk County’s Charley Dusenbury prepares a set for Morgan Yoder during Saturday’s match

Sophia Overholt hit a spike to make it 15-14. Zaelea Eller dropped in an ace to make it 15-15. Overholt hammered a kill to give Polk a 16-15 edge, then ripped another for a 17-15 margin. Polk added another point before Cherokee took a timeout of its own.

Kylie Lewis and Mia Bradley teamed for a block following the break to make it 19-15, and the Wolverines closed the match with a 4-1 run.

Overholt finished with 16 kills, perhaps none more important than those three that changed the complexion of the set.

“She killed it,” Hill said. “We wanted to put her in position to do that, and we were able to set the fast balls out to her.”

The Wolverine defense again had much to do with the outcome, with five players recording 11 or more digs. Elena Carroll had 22 digs and led a Polk effort that often kept points alive off Cherokee kill attempts.

The Wolverines will need a similar effort Tuesday against a Highland Tech squad that features three talented hitters in juniors Alise Mayers and Madison Thompson and senior Alexus Neal. That trio helped spark the Rams’ 3-0 win over previously undefeated Cornerstone Charter.

“It’s exciting,” Hill said. “We’re going to be ready.”

As a large crowd watches, Polk County’s Mia Bradley soars for a kill attempt during the second set of Saturday’s match