The Polk County Wildkittens handily defeated the host Lady Hawks 53-18, while the Hawks kept it close in the closer for three quarters, battling hard against the Wildcats before falling 53-34.
“That’s what a break will do to us. We were just not prepared. We ran out of steam. We hung with them there the first half and just ran out of steam the second half, plain and simple,” said Lady Hawks coach Tawnie Locklear. “You have to be able to run with them and make it up and down the floor, and we just didn’t.”
Mikayla McClary led the Wildkittens with 21 points and Heather Mclain reached double figures with 13.
As rusty as Locklear said the Lady Hawks looked, the Polk girls struggled to build momentum early and held a slim 10-5 lead after the first quarter.
“We came out kind of flat tonight then we jumped into kind of a press and that seemed to get our motor running a little bit. We got some easier buckets that way and it got the ball rolling for us,” said Polk coach Johnny Hayes.
The second quarter was all Polk County as the ’Kittens scored 14 and held TCPS to only two points and led 24-7 at halftime.
The Wildkittens went on a 13-0 run to open the second half and led 35-7 with just under two minutes left in the quarter. The Lady Hawks broke the drought on a Karissa Armao basket with an assist by Natalee Calfee. Brook Howard added a basket along with two more from Armao before the period ended.
“We could not buy a shot tonight. I can’t complain about that as long we’re getting good looks. We are going to have off nights. One of the things I told the girls is I’m not going to complain if we’re missing those shots when we’re getting good looks,” said Locklear. “The complaint I have is boxing out and getting up and down the floor. It takes absolutely no skill to box out and rebound. But it’s something we are continuing to work on. It’s a vital part of basketball and sometimes we forget it, but that’s what practice is for.
“We’ve got some girls that give great effort and have great attitudes. They will pretty much do anything I ask of them. They usually give it their all but tonight just was not our night. The first game back from Christmas break and they just were not prepared; mentally and physically we just weren’t ready for it.”
Holding a 37-13 lead, Hayes emptied the bench during the final eight minutes. The Lady Hawks added five more points at the end of the game from the free-throw line to make it a 53-18 final.
“We got to play a lot of girls tonight and it came at a good time. We’ve had some new girls join us and it gave us an opportunity to get some court time that’s needed. It definitely helps us,” said Hayes.
“We need to be able to rotate girls and save some legs; especially this time of the year there is some fatigue factor. We’re eyeing the postseason. The postgame speech was geared toward that. These next few games over the next couple of weeks are very big for us and we need to focus and really get our ducks in a row. It’s definitely tournament time in my mind already.”
The Polk Wildcats have had a rough time of it this basketball season and the TCPS Hawks didn’t make it any easier Monday night.
In the end Polk was able to rev it up enough to pull away from the Hawks and win by a comfortable 53-34 margin.
“It’s good to get one. We’ve had a pretty rough stretch as far as schedule. We’ve played some pretty good basketball teams. Tonight it was good to get one,” said Polk coach Rusty Brewer.
The Wildcats, led by 13 points from Devin Weber, battled to a 13-0 first quarter lead and built a 10 point advantage in the second before closing the first half with a 26-19 cushion.
Cody Groomes helped the Wildcats with 11 points.
Luke Benton paced the Hawks with 15 and Jacob Coleman ended the night with 11.
“We put the ball in the hole decent in the first half, we just went through that spell in the third,” said Brewer. “There was something like 3:42 left before we finally scored. We were able to get some more points in late in the quarter but it seemed to take too long to get fired up in the second half.”
The third quarter belonged to the Hawks. Coleman got it started for TCPS with a three-point play to cut the Polk lead to 26-22. Minutes later Andy Chase lifted in a long range 3-pointer from the right wing to make it a 28-26 game. A Blake Cross jumper opened Polk’s lead to 30-26 and Gage Locke launched in a buzzer beater for the Wildcats to make it a 35-27 game.
“We cut it to 28-26 in the third quarter and I think we kind of ran out of gas,” sid TCPS coach Frank Walker. “Our bench wasn’t very deep. But we are excited about what’s coming. Polk County is a really good team. We’re happy with our kids and what they are doing here, but hopefully when we go over there it will be different.”
The Wildcats were able to open the gap in the final eight minutes to lock up the win. Will Richmond’s 3-pointer with just over three minutes left to play put Polk out front 47-33.
“We’ve got to be more consistent. We’ve got to be ‘start-to-finish.’ We’ve got a competitive game coming in Friday night against Loudon. We need to get in the district win column,” said Brewer. “We’ve kind of put ourselves in a little bit of a hole, but we’ve got to get some district wins and get ready. We need to improve and play our best basketball in February.”
Polk Closed out the night with six more points while holding the Hawks to a free throw with 2:19 left.
“The third quarter we came out and we went hard. We knew Polk County would be aggressive,” said Walker. “Our guys got better. It’s our first game back this new year, and I just wanted to make sure we competed. They competed for most of the game. There were lapses and we ended up with 26 turnovers. That really was the game.
WILDKITTENS 53, LADY HAWKS 18
Polk County 10 14 13 16 — 53
TCPS 5 2 6 5 — 18
Polk County (53) — Mikayla McClary 21, Heather McLain 13, Waldroup 8, Liner 5, Davis 2, Johnson 2, Withrow 2, Trew, Muller.
TCPS (18) — Benton 5, Armao 4, Howard 4, Jenkins 3, Carter 1, Nelms 1, Hall, Calfee, Rafuano.
3-point goals: Polk County 1 (McClary).
Records: Polk County 9-10; TCPS 7-2.
WILDCATS 53, HAWKS 34
Polk County 13 13 9 18 — 53
TCPS 10 9 8 7 — 34
Polk County (54) — Devin Weber 13, Cody Groomes 11, Locke 9, Richmond 7, Cross 6, Sipe 4, Calfee 4, Ownbey, Frerichs, Wimberley.
TCPS (34) — Luke Benton 15, Jacob Coleman 11, Payton 5, Douglas 2, Wycoff.
3-point goals: Polk County 4 (Locke, Groomes, Richmond, Weber); TCPS 2 (Benton, Coleman).
Records: Polk County 4-15; TCPS 7-5.