Although the scoreboard read 10-5 in favor of the visiting McMinn County squad, the host Wildcats went toe-to-toe with the Class AAA team, forcing an extra inning before all was said and done.
“We played a AAA team evenly for seven innings, but then things sort of fell a part in the eighth,” declared Polk County head coach John Dixon. “We have a very young team that doesn’t know how to win yet, but we will before the season is over.”
With just two of their 13 varsity players having any real experience, the Wildcats had several opportunities to claim the victory, but mistakes cost them the “W.”
Now just 2-7 on the season, Polk must regroup over the weekend before facing District 5-AA newcomer Loudon in a home-and-home series at the first of the week. The teams will tangle in Loudon Monday at 5:30 p.m. and Benton Tuesday at 5.
Both teams put a run on the scoreboard in their opening at bats Thursday. McMinn leadoff man Colby Eaton opened the game with the first of his four hits in the contest, stole second and eventually scored on a wild pitch.
Polk answered in the bottom of the frame with a two-out single by senior Matthew Hammons, who scored all the way from first base on a wind-blown pop-up by freshman Kendrick Tinker.
Neither team scored again until the Wildcats pushed a pair across in the bottom of the fourth when Daniel Hall and Ben Norwood ripped back-to-back two-out singles.
The Cherokees (5-6) cut the lead in half with a solo run in the top of the fifth when Jake Lingerfelt reached on an error and Drew Godsey drove him in with a one-out hit.
Polk answered with a similar run of its own in the bottom of the frame when senior Carter Flowers, who is getting ready to sign with Hiwassee College, reached on an error and was singled home by Trevor Peel.
Once again the visitors inched closer with another run in the sixth, when Eaton roped a one-out double, stole third and scored after getting caught in a unsuccessful rundown.
McMinn took the lead in the top of the seventh when Eaton drove home pair of teammates with a two-out double.
Down a run going into their final at bat in regulation, the Wildcats forced the extra inning when Hammons led off with an infield single, advanced on a similar hit by Flowers and scored on the fifth Cherokee error of the contest.
In the top of the eighth, Polk pushed its error mark to three on the night when a pair of fielding miscues, a walk, a hit batsmen and a two-run triple by Javon Simpson allow the Tribe to put a 5-spot on the board.
The Wildcats had no answer this time, going down in order to close out the game.
Hammons went 2-for-3 at the dish, plus drew a walk and scored twice for the hosts, while teammate Tinker had the lone extra-base hit with a double, plus reached on an error for the “Boys from Benton.” Hall finished with a single, walk, stolen base and RBI.
A constant hard wind, with gusts exceeding the 15-mph mark, hampered play and helped the combined error total rise to eight. The teams laced 19 hits, many of them aided by the strong crosswind.
McMinn County 100 011 25 — 10 12 5
Polk County 100 210 10 — 5 7 3
WP: Jake Lingerfelt 4.1 IP, 5 Ks, 1 BB, 4 hits, 0 ER; LP: Ben Norwood 1.1 IP, 0 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 2 hits, 0 ER. 3B: Javon Simpson (MC); 2B: Colby Eaton 2 (MC); Kendrick Tinker (PC). RBIs: Eaton 2, Simpson 2, Taylor Corbett, Drew Godsey (MC); Daniel Hall, Ben Norwood, Trevor Peel (PC). Highlights: Eaton 4-6, 2 SB, 2 2B, 2 runs, 2 RBIs, reached on error; Simpson 2-5, 3B, 2 RBIs, 2 runs (MC); Matthew Hammons 2-3, BB, 2 runs; Tinker 1-4, 2B, reached on error; Hall 1-4, BB, SB, RBI (PC). Records: McMinn County 5-6; Polk County 2-7.