“It’s a good start for a new year,” proclaimed coach Rusty Brewer after his Wildcats held off a late charge by Sweetwater for a 51-44 victory. “They made a couple of runs and we were able to weather the storm, (and) knocked down some buckets to not give up the lead.
“We struggled the first part of the season, but hopefully we’ve turned over a new leaf,” commented coach Johnny Hayes as his Wildkittens have a three-game winning streak after a 55-17 “mercy-rule” thumping of winless Sweetwater. “We played a good all-around game both offensively and defensively. This is a step in the right direction but we have a tough row coming up.”
With both squads now 5-11 on the season and 1-2 in district play, Polk will host archrival McMinn Central Tuesday and look for some revenge on district foe Sequoyah Friday.
The Boys from Benton held Sweetwater (3-12, 0-3 District 5-AA) scoreless for the first 5 1/2 minutes Friday while pumping in the game’s first seven points, including a bucket from the lane and a long-range bomb from junior Cody Groomes to open the game’s scoring.
After Chandler Hutcheson and Derrick Weber both put in a basket from the paint, Polk stretched its advantage to eight points when Hutcheson drained a 3-ball in the final minute of the opening frame.
Sweetwater fought back to pull within three points of the lead when Polk started the second period with a trio of turnovers and four missed shots, but coach Brewer’s crew got back on track with back-to-back treys by Weber and senior Evan Ball to push back up by a half dozen at the intermission.
The visitors once again pulled within striking distance with a 3-pointer to open the second half, but Weber answered with six straight Polk points to widen the gap and later in the period drained another bomb from beyond the arc to put the hosts up by double digits.
In the final eight minutes, Sweetwater was able to trim the deficit to just three points on three different occasions but that was as close as the visitors would come as Polk held them at bay each time. Ball hit a key four-point play with 4:53 left to help drive the nail into the coffin.
Weber led the victors with 18 points and a half dozen rebounds, while Groomes netted 13 markers, including 4-of-6 shooting from the free-throw line down the stretch.
Ball helped out with a half dozen points and five assists, with Richmond netting eight points. Hutcheson finished with five points and copped four steals.
“We were without Devin Weber, who injured his foot up at Towns County (Ga.) in the Battle of the States tournament last week, but we had several other guys step up and play well,” praised coach Brewer. “We told the guys before the game that tonight will affect us in February in the district tournament seedings. Every district game is important. We responded well to the challenge.”
Lady Wildcats 17
In the girls’ game, the Polk offense put 27 points on the board before the visitors found the bottom of the net on a shot from the field.
Coach Hayes’ squad drilled five shots from either side for the 19-foot arc while the lone Sweetwater point in the game’s first 15 minutes came on a free throw 45 ticks into the second period.
The visitors were able to drop in a pair of shots from the lane in the final minute of the opening half, but a 3-pointer by Isabella Liner made it a 25-point halftime advantage for the hosts.
Things were tighter after the break as Polk held just an 11-9 advantage during the third period, before the Wildkitten onslaught continued in the final frame with a 14-1 run that forced a running clock for the game’s final three minutes.
Eight players got into the scoring column for Polk with Emily Wilson draining four 3-pointers and hitting all four of her free throws for a game-high 16 points. She also grabbed five rebounds, dished out five assist and swiped a pair of steals.
Riley Hatcher helped out with 10 points, including a pair of treys, three caroms, three helps and a couple of steals in less than three quarters of play for the victors.
Rosa Haynes added nine points, snatched four boards, dished out a pair of “dimes” and grabbed two steals.
Heather McLain hit 2-of-3 shots from the field, plus 3-of-4 free throws for seven points, while Liner also went 3-for-4 at the stripe to go along with her trey for a half dozen.
Makayla McClary cleaned the glass for five ricochets, while Rachel Epperson pulled down four for the home team.
As a whole, the Wildkittens hit eight shots from either side fo the arc out of 50 total attempts, while Sweetwater made just 5-of-46 shots (11 percent).
“We were able to get a lot of players on the court tonight and they did well,” coach Hayes commented. “We executed our offense really well in the first half, plus I was proud to see our defense pick it up. We gave up just 17 points on the night, so you can’t ask more than that.”
Sweetwater 0 5 9 3 — 17
Polk County 13 17 11 14 — 55
LADY WILDCATS (17) — Rasmussen 6, Ervin 4, Mashburn 3, Hurst 2, Duprey 1, Thomasson 1, Hilare, McNabb, Singer, Walker, Fairbanks, Burgess.
WILDKITTENS (55) — Emily Wilson 16, Riley Hatcher 10, Rosa Haynes 9, Heather McLain 7, Isabella Liner 6, Makayla McClary 4, Felecia Johnson 2, Rachel Epperson 1, Shelby Lillard, Hannah Withrow, Whitney Hutcheson.
3-pointers: Sweetwater 1 (Mashburn); Polk 8 (Wilson 4, Hatcher 2, Liner, Haynes).
Free throws: Sweetwater 6-of-18; Polk 14-of-22.
Records: Sweetwater 0-15, 0-3 District 5-AA; Polk 5-11, 1-2 District 5-AA.
Sweetwater 7 7 14 16 — 44
Polk County 12 8 15 16 — 51
SWEETWATER WILDCATS (44) — Brandon Clark 14, Tyler Watson 10, Battle 8, Johnson 6, Spencer 3, Albright 3, Wicker, Davis.
POLK WILDCATS (51) — Derrick Weber 18, Cody Groomes 13, Will Richmond 8, Evan Ball 6, Chandler Hutcheson 5, Gage Locke 1, Bryce Coffey.
3-pointers: Sweetwater 7 (Watson 3, Johnson 2, Battle, Albright); Polk 6 (Weber 2, Ball, Groomes, Hutcheson, Richmond).
Free throws: Sweetwater 7-of-12; Polk 12-of-18.
Records: Sweetwater 3-12, 0-3 District 5-AA; Polk County 5-11, 1-2 District 5-AA