BASEBALL: Polk checks Madison in regular-season finale

Published 12:04 pm Monday, May 6, 2024

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An injury to sophomore Noah Harden has meant a scramble for starting pitching for Polk County in the waning days of the regular season.

Thursday at Chase, Karson Scruggs provided one solution, delivering an eight-inning complete game in Polk’s wild 11-2 win.

Saturday evening at The Bottoms, Gunnar Alm and Avrey Hensley offered the latest answer to the call for arms. The two sophomores teamed on a three-hitter, keeping Madison largely in check as Polk County closed the regular season with a 10-6 victory.

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The Wolverines wrap up their schedule with a 10-13 record, which now officially includes a forfeit at Patton due to an illegal pitching appearance. Polk will learn its playoff opponent on Monday, with the first-round matchup set for Tuesday, most likely on the road.

Head coach Billy Alm will take a postseason effort similar to Saturday’s performance, especially in the opening innings. Polk took a 2-1 lead after two innings, then scored eight runs in the third to seize control of the game.

That cushion proved more than enough for Polk’s duo on the mound. Gunnar Alm started and pitched four innings, giving up two hits and striking out five. Hensley pitched the final three innings, also striking out five, walking one and giving up just one hit, a three-run homer by Madison standout Cale Ball, a Mars Hill signee.

“(Gunnar) wanted to pitch tonight,” Billy Alm said. “He went out and gave us four strong innings. He’s definitely rusty, but four strong innings, and then Avrey comes back with three.

“We haven’t used those guys much, kind of like Scruggs the other day, but they’ve stepped up pitching-wise.”

Polk took a 1-0 lead in the first inning as Gunnar Alm reached on a leadoff single, raced to third on Alex Perry’s infield grounder, and scored on a passed ball. Hensley opened the second with a base hit, stole second, and then scored on Cohen Edwards’ double to left-center to give the Wolverines their 2-1 lead after two innings.

Ball smashed a two-run double to deep center to put the Patriots (10-11) up 3-2 in the top of the third, but Polk emphatically answered in the bottom half of the inning.

Alm walked, stole second and scored on Alex Perry’s double to begin the rally, which included back-to-back doubles by Hensley and Mason Beiler and a two-run single by Perry in his second at-bat. Polk had four hits in the inning, drew four walks and had two hit batters in the lengthy rally that also included two Madison pitching changes.

“Our bats, except for the last few innings tonight, have come alive,” Billy Alm said. “We had the big two-run homer the other night (from Lawson Carter at Chase) and then we had several big hits in the third inning tonight.

“When we are focused, we play really well.”

Ball sent his three-run blast over the fence in left-center in the top of the sixth. But Hensley shook that off and retired the final five hitters in order to close the win.

Perry finished 2-for-4 with three RBI, with Hensley 2-for-4 and two runs. Gunnar Alm was 1-for-2 with an RBI and three runs, with Carter, Beiler, Edwards and Zalen McCraw each adding a base hit.

Polk will now turn its focus to the postseason, returning to 1A competition after spending the past two seasons competing at the 2A level.

“I’m excited about going back into the 1A playoffs,” Billy Alm said. “If we stay foucused, we can make a little run. I’m definitely excited about it.”