BENTON — The word for the Polk County Wildcats Monday — perseverance.
Coach Bill Triplett’s team endured an hour rain delay that interrupted the second inning.
They persisted through getting the field back in playable shape after the 40-minute downpour.
The Cat’s bats woke up after the restart and banged out a dozen hits.
The Boys from Benton overcame five fielding errors and a half dozen free passes to Hurricane hitters.
And the end result was a 12-4 victory over East Hamilton in the Region 3-AAA Tournament opener, the right to host Wednesday’s region championship game and Polk’s first TSSAA Sub-state berth in 24 years.
“The game was a good example of our season. We have persevered all year,” Coach Triplett proclaimed. “We have looked great at times. We have looked bad at times. But we hung in there. Now we have a shot at a region championship and a chance to make the state tournament if we can win Friday.”
No matter what happens in Wednesday’s region title game against arch-rival McMinn Central, the Wildcats will play on Friday with a berth in next week’s state tournament on the line. The Chargers (19-15) eliminated Red Bank in a 3-1 contest Monday evening.
If Polk (23-12), which was swept by Central during the regular season but defeated them in the District 5-AA championship game last Wednesday, can pull the plug on the Cahrgers again then Friday’s sectional game will be in Benton.
If they fall to the Boys from Englewood, then the ’Cats will have to travel to either Smith County (24-6), which knocked off Sequatchie County 14-6, Chattanooga Christian or DeKalb County. The latter two were rained out Monday and will play today for the right to face Smith County in the Region 4-AA title game.
Polk and East Hamilton (21-16) got in just one inning and an out Monday before the dark clouds dumped their cargo forcing a mad scramble to get the tarp on the field in hopes of salvaging the day’s efforts.
“Coaches (Michael) Curtis and (Matt) Allen had worked very hard all day and had the field in great shape before the game so we could play,” Coach Triplett praised. “That was the fastest we’ve gotten the tarp on the field all year. The guys (parents, players and coaches) did a tremendous job of getting us ready to go again after the rain stopped.”
With the second not resuming until 6:30, the teams then had to race the sun as daylight became a concern before the contest finished close to 8:40.
Polk County picked up the game’s first run in the bottom of the second when junior Michael Hargove led off with a single and eventually came around to score when Justin Greer drew the back end of back-to-back two-out walks by the Hurricane starter.
The Wildcats tacked on three more in their next at bat when junior Jared Allen helped his own cause with the first of a pair of two-run home runs in the contest. Collin Wimberly had opened the frame with a single before Allen “went yard” over the scoreboard in left-center field.
Hargrove followed with a walk and came around to score on a single by Jim Bob Maples to put the home team up 4-0.
Polk pushed their advantage to a half dozen in the fourth frame as junior Tyler Lee stroked a one-out single and after he moved up on a wild pitch, Wimberly put runners on the corners with a single of his own.
With Allen at the plate the ’Cat runner pulled off a double steal to plate Lee. After walks to Allen and Hargrove, Alex Akins brought in Wimberly with a sacrifice fly.
After Allen cruised on the mound giving up just one hit in the first four innings, he ran into a little trouble in the fifth as the boys from Ooltewah took advantage of a trio of free passes, a pair of hits and an error to put two runs on the board.
The Hurricanes trimmed the deficit to 6-4 in the top of the sixth frame, scoring twice on an error, two walks, a wild pitch and a passed ball.
Polk broke out the big sticks in their half of the inning to put the game out of reach.
Wimberly led off with a single before Allen’s second “big fly” of the night. Hargrove and Akins followed with surprising back-to-back bunt singles before Maples laced a run-scoring hit.
Brock Raper loaded the bases with a fielder’s choice that didn’t work before Greer blasted a double over the center fielder’s head to bring in the final two runs of the contest.
“Our bats are what has saved us all year,” Coach Triplett remarked. “Although the pitching line looks good with only three hits given up we gave up too many walks. This is our first sub-state berth since 1986 and if we expect to go any farther we can’t commit five and six errors a game.”
Wimberly paced the offense, going 3-for-5 and scoring three times, while Allen was officially 2-for-3 with two homers and four RBI. Hargrove and Maples were also 2-for-3 in the contest with Hargrove scoring three times and Maples driving in a pair.
Maples also took the mound for the final six outs, striking out two ’Canes in the process to preserve the win.
POLK COUNTY 12, EAST HAMILTON 4
East Hamilton 000 022 0 — 4 3 1
Polk County 013 206 x — 12 12 5
WP: Jared Allen (8-1) 5 IP, 5 Ks, 3 BB, 1HBP, 3 H, 1 ER. LP: Ungas. HR: Jared Allen 2 (PC). 2B: Justin Greer (PC). RBI: Allen 4, Greer 3, Jim Bob Maples 2, Alex Akins (PC). Records: East Hamilton 21-16; Polk County 23-12.