By Kenny Hetzler
LOGANSPORT — Eastern’s girls cross country team was perfect in the Logansport Sectional meet Tuesday at the Berry Patch.
Eastern won its fourth consecutive sectional title and it did so in dominant fashion, sweeping the top five spots for a perfect score of 15. Northwestern was second with a score of 86, Cass (97) was third, Carroll (126) was fourth and Logansport and Western followed with scores of 140. Logan’s sixth runner finished ahead of Western’s sixth runner, giving the Berries fifth place on the tiebreaker.
The top five teams and top 15 individuals advance to the Culver Academy Regional on Saturday.
“It wasn’t really our main goal,” said Eastern coach Brandon Mink on sweeping the top five spots. “I basically said if it happens, it happens, but we mainly wanted to run a good solid race, let the cards fall where they may. Taryn Thor of Northwestern [sixth place, 20:01.07] was right in the midst of our pack, and she had a good 10 seconds about mid-race on our four and five girl. I didn’t know if they were going to catch her or not. They started closing the gap, and Avery [Ewing] just nipped her right at the end. The last part of the race, they really ran excellent.
“Obviously, getting 15 points [in a sectional meet] is a rarity, and it’s a very, very special night, so I am proud of them.”
Individually, Eastern’s Bethany Neeley won her fourth consecutive title. She had a time of 18 minutes, 32.32 seconds. Her twin sister, Brittany, was second (19:36.36), followed by Sarah Wagner (19:39.97), Carly Jones (19:56.62) and Ewing (20:00.88).
“Definitely an accomplishment,” said Bethany Neeley on winning her fourth individual title. “It was a goal coming into high school, but it definitely feels good for it to pay off right now. It wasn’t about individual [Tuesday]. We knew we had a shot to sweep it, but weren’t supposed to kill ourselves to. I didn’t know it would come down to that close, but we had a good kick [Tuesday]. We started the postseason off the right way.”
Western (74) edged Logansport (79) by five points to win the boys sectional crown. Carroll (117), Kokomo (123) and Northwestern (125) took the other regional qualifying spots.
The Berries had a slight lead with the top three runners, but it was the Panthers’ final two runners who turned it around. Western’s Austin Elliott was 19th (17:43.95) and Caleb Maddox took 23rd (17:55.37). Logansport’s last two runners placed 22nd and 24th.
“I told my guys late last week that it is going to be really close,” Western coach Gary Jewell said. “I had somewhere around six points [separating the teams] and it ended up being five. Maddox passed two guys coming in and that is four points right there, otherwise it was a one-point race. We had another couple of guys pass a couple of Logansport guys coming in. Earlier in the race, it looked like we were getting killed. But it is a three-mile race, not a one-mile race, so move through the field, and that is what we have been focusing on all year.
“We have a couple of guys that have been down a little bit. Riley Worl a week ago was almost a minute slower, then he was [Tuesday]. He made a good comeback [Tuesday] with a top-15 finish. Elliott ran his best time of the year. Jake Bradshaw, who has been healthy all year. Of course, we couldn’t do anything without Matt Grider. Having Matt in second place, and having all the guys from other teams between third place through nine, was the difference in this meet, and that helps tremendously. When you have somebody with the caliber of Matt up front, that makes the team that much better.”
Eastern’s Lewis Duke was the overall individual winner (16:04.92), and Adam Schaaf was fourth (16:45.22) for the Comets.
“Duke continues to impress,” Mink said. “To see him where he has come in a year, I am so excited for him. Going from that dream to training to be up in the upper level to know getting to that level where he is sectional champion, that is really, really exciting. He ran his race very smartly again.
“He is an excellent, excellent finisher. I am really tickled to see where he has come from and where he is going.”
Kokomo’s Jeremy Breedlove also had a nice run. He finished sixth for the regional-bound Kats.
“We had five out of seven set season bests,” Kokomo coach Ricke Stucker said. “We cut five seconds off our season-best team time. ... We had an outstanding performance from a freshman kid, Ethan Sharp, who cut 45 seconds off his personal best and got 29th place.
“The wind died down for [the boys] race. Unfortunately, it was windy for the girls. The conditions were pretty good in our race and it was a good battle for first place between Western and Logansport.”