ASSUMPTION – Arcola's Tony Salinas promised to run off his anger during the 4x400 relay. But of the three relays he raced, Arcola had its longest odds in the 4x4.
The Riders needed either to finish top two in a crowded field or knock more than three seconds off their seed time to meet qualifying standards. They needed a race like Tuscola's.
Tuscola finished third and beat the cutoff time by three-hundredths of a second.
The 4x4 was the last event of the Class 1A Central A&M Sectional on Thursday and the end of an unpredictable afternoon in the relays – the 4x100 and 4x200 in particular.
At the state finals last year, Arcola's relays largely led it to a third-place team trophy. The Riders won the 4x1 and 4x4 titles and took second place in the 4x2. Two seniors graduated. Salinas and Clayton Strader, and Brandon Lebeter in the 4x4, remained.
“We're doing a lot better than I thought we ever would,” Strader said.
Sophomore Mario Cortez and senior Seth Still filled in on the 4x1 and 4x2 this season, and Arcola still mustered some magic for one race on Thursday.
Arcola finished second in the 4x1 with a team-best 44.02, behind New Berlin, holders of the state's top time. It clinched an automatic state berth and came almost three-tenths better than the cutoff time.
St. Teresa, which opened the meet second in the event, dropped the baton on its first exchange. Tuscola, timed neck-and-neck with Arcola, dropped the baton on the second exchange.
Arcola was feeling good.
“We believed in ourselves,” Salinas said. “We knew we could get top times and make it to state in all the relays, but some things don't turn out the way you want them to sometimes.”
The Riders' next best chance to make a state relay was in the 4x2, for which they were seeded second. But Tuscola (two-hundredths back), Shelbyville and St. Teresa were all within less than one second.
Arcola missed its second exchange and chance to go to state in the most unlikely of ways. Its two most experience relay racers, Strader and Salinas, couldn't find each other.
Strader reached ahead for Salinas, missed at first, lunged and missed again. They ran out of the exchange zone before they could connect.
“We were all feeling good,” Salinas said. “We were thinking we had a chance to beat New Berlin (which won), even have a chance to PR. We were all feeling good up until that mess up.”
That opened the door for Tuscola to place second in a relatively slow-run relay. The Warriors ran 1:33.72, which wouldn't have qualified them had they not finished top two.
Their relay team also qualified in the 4x4, a double that felt good after the mistake during the 4x1.
Joey Lopez dropped the baton in the 4x1, letting go of it too early on a handoff attempt.
“We didn't have our best time,” Lukas Hortin said, “but we got there.”
St. Teresa finished the 4x2 but not fast enough, taking fourth.
Strader regrouped from the 4x2 disappointment by winning the 300-meter hurdles.
Back to defend
Meridian's Noah Adams is heading back to Charleston to defend his 1A state title in the high jump and was about two or so inches Thursday from where he thinks he needs to be in a week.
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Adams, teammate Cameron Getz, and Pana's Adam Miller all qualified but after hitting the cutoff height of 6-2, Adams was on a stage all by himself.
He cleared 6-6 and 6-7 in two jumps, but was stuck there for the day.
“It's kind of like, if it's not one thing, it's the other,” Adams said of not clearing 6-8. “It put me at a decent ranking for state.”
The University of Illinois commit won last year's state title by clearing 6-10.
Defending it won't be an easy task, but it's a privilege Adams has taken in stride this season.
“Obviously, I want to win next week,” Adams said. “But it was just kind of like – don't put a bunch of pressure on yourself from being a defending state champ. Just have fun with it.”
Still, another state title has been his goal, and all of the training he's been doing has been geared toward peaking right around mid to late May.
So this week he'll be keeping to the same routine he had leading up to state last year.
There are a lot of ice baths in his future, he said.
Race of the day
Shelbyville's Ryan Skowronski was worried about starting too fast. That concern quickly dissipated when Meridian's Drake Baker jumped out to a healthy lead.
With 200 meters to go in the 800-meter race, Baker had led the whole way with room for a full-sized pickup truck between he and Skowronski.
But Skowronski snuck up, passed him with 50 meters to go and won the title by nearly a second.
He'd sized up the Meridian leader, studying him from behind.
“Whenever we got done with the first 400, I could tell his entire form changed and he was like, OK, I got this in control and I'm gonna start slowing down,” Skowronski said, “and that's when I was like, he doesn't think I'm coming. I'm coming now.”
Skowronski hadn't made up any distance with 300 meters to go, so he kicked it into high gear. Along the last turn, he started gaining. He was close to sprinting on the last 100.
“I wanted to keep him a comfortable distance away from me to where I knew I could kick him down,” Skowronski said. “I noticed I wasn't gaining at like 300 to go. I needed to start moving. When I got to the 200 mark, I was like, it's time to go. It's now or never.”
Skowronski rubbed shoulders with Baker as he passed him on his right with 50 meters to go. Baker was trying to block him but nothing was stopping him.
Around the track
. . . St. Teresa was on the outside looking in at the relay qualifiers after it was all over, which made for a tough day at the track. But the Bulldogs will still send four athletes to state. Freshman Jacardia Wright pulled a bit of an upset in long jump, beating Shelbyville's Jordan Smith for the title. Distance runner Jackson Stewart's afterburners helped him beat the 3,200-meter qualifying time by three seconds. Jason Duncan (100) and Brady Moore (shot put) will also head to Charleston.
. . . Shelbyville won the sectional title with 118 points. Shelbyville won four events. One of its surprises came with Dillon Birch who finished second in the shot put. New Berlin (67 1/2 points) finished second.
. . . Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond thrower Colton Yeakley is looking good going into state. He won both the shot put and discus titles. He lapped up the field in discus with a throw of 162-10, his best this year, beating Tuscola's Hunter Woodard by more than 17 feet. His shot put title also came from a season-best throw (54-7 1/2).