By MICHAEL BURWELL
COLUMBUS — If there’s one thing to know about Bluffton’s 3,200 boys relay team the past two seasons, it’s to never count it out.
For the second straight year, the Pirates earned a spot on the podium after having one of the lowest-seeded times.
Bluffton junior anchor Christopher Harnish passed three athletes on the final lap as he, Isaac Andreas, Baylor Garmatter and Antony Kingsley finished sixth in 8:08.92 at the OHSAA Division III state track and field meet at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on Friday.
“It’s great to run here. Honestly, it’s a great way to finish,” said Kingsley, who along with Andreas are the two seniors on the relay team. “Just getting sixth when we were seeded 13th, dropping spots like that, dropping our time, which is just great.”
The Pirates’ strong finish highlighted quite the day on the track for area athletes.
Of the 13 individuals or relay teams that were competing in preliminary races, 12 of them advanced to today’s finals. And of those 12, four have the top preliminary time.
Bluffton, which finished fourth a year ago in the 3,200 relay in 8:08.15 after being the No. 12 seed, entered Friday’s race as the No. 13 seed.
The Pirates still found a way back onto the podium.
Andreas, Kingsley and Harnish were part of the fourth-place team a year ago, while Garmatter, a freshman, filled in nicely this year.
Harnish grabbed the baton in ninth and hung around the runner in front of him for the first lap before his strong finish on the final lap.
“Coming out, I just knew there was this guy I had to stay with or else I wasn’t going to run a good race,” said Harnish, a junior. “So I just stayed with this guy. He helped me pass one or two guys, but then I think around the second lap, I just had to push it. I guess I ran my race today.”
Kingsley, meanwhile, was running his first race since the Findlay district meet two weeks ago. He battled a stress fracture in his right foot throughout the season and was in a walking boot at last week’s Tiffin regional meet.
He practiced Wednesday when he was cleared to run and practiced Thursday as well.
“I just had to follow what the doctor told me to do: stay in the boot for a couple days, get out and try to get in a shoe, and as soon he cleared me, I was like ‘OK, I’m going back to run so I can be sort of in shape to run here,'” Kingsley said.
Riverdale’s 3,200 relay team of Ben Gannon, Justin Scott, Josh Hunter and Antonio Renteria placed 14th in 8:27.58.
In the preliminary races, Cory-Rawson senior Mason Warnimont posted the top 100- and 200-meter times, which were 10.95 and 21.94, respectively.
The defending 200 state champion feels he has plenty left in the tank to try to add to his state championship collection.
“I was going hard enough to get to finals. I’ve still got more in me,” Warnimont said. “”¦ Tomorrow, it’s a new day. I don’t look back on times I ran today. I have some goals I want to reach for Saturday, so (I’ll) try to hit those marks.”
Riverdale senior Kyle Evans finished with the top mark in the 400 after running a 50.03.
Evans dropped the 3,200 relay to focus on the 400. He came in as the top seed (49.70).
“It was a really tough decision,” Evans said. “The whole group was counting on me, kind of, but they totally understood.”
Evans’ goal for today?
“First. Definitely first,” he said.
He’s looking to become Riverdale’s first state champion since 2006, when Curtis Hoag won the shot put title.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Evans said. “I ran another strong time and finals is going to be tough, but I’m going for it.”
Bluffton’s Trevor Bassitt, the defending 110 hurdles state champion, posted the top 300 hurdles time (38.92) and second-fastest 110 hurdles time (14.67) behind Smithville’s Cole Smith (14.55). The two hurdlers were the only athletes to break 15 seconds in the prelims.
“He is an amazing hurdler,” Bassitt said of Smith. “I knew from when we ended it last year at state (with Smith finishing sixth), I talked to him and I knew he was coming for me this year.
“Last year with a bunch of great hurdlers, there wasn’t much pressure because not too many people expected me to win. But this year, defending, a lot of people are expecting me to win and I know he’s going to push me, I’m going to push him. It should be a fantastic race between me and him.”
Kalida’s Josh Verhoff and Patrick Henry’s Donny Johnson both advanced in the 200 and the 400 relay.
In the Division II meet, Liberty-Benton’s Justin Risner also qualified in two events.
Verhoff ran a 22.48 for the sixth-fastest 200 time. The Wildcats sophomore, along with Caleb Siebeneck, Austin Nartker and Trevor Vorst, qualified third in the 400 relay with a season-best 43.68 after being seeded 13th.
Johnson, meanwhile, snuck into the 200 finals after qualifying ninth with a 22.71. Twin Valley’s Troy Bowers was 10th at 22.716.
The Patriots’ 400 relay team of Mitchell Bonner, Sean Norden, Alex VanDeBussche and Johnson was eighth in 44.20.
“Definitely, today was just to do the best I can,” Johnson said. “Yeah, my time wasn’t the best, but it got me to tomorrow. So I’m just going to do what I can and see what I can do tomorrow and hopefully the 4 by 1 and myself make the podium.”
Risner also earned a spot in both hurdles races after running a personal-record 15.07 in the 110 hurdles and a 39.62 in the 300 hurdles, despite hitting the last hurdle in the 300s. He is seeded eighth and sixth, respectively.
“All season, everybody makes it a big goal and just qualify for state. So now that I’m here, I’m just trying to run well and PR, so hopefully tomorrow I can,” Risner said.
Carey’s Gavin Woods continued his strong surge after returning from a pair of injuries during the season and ran a personal-best 50.35 in the 400. The Blue Devils’ senior is seeded fifth.
Johnson, Norden, Bonner and Xavier Wensink were 12th in the 1,600 relay in 3:31.41.
The Division III running event finals will begin at 9:30 a.m. today. The Division II 110 hurdles race is set for 1:05 p.m., while the 300 hurdles is slated for 2:15 p.m.
State Track: Never count out Bluffton
By MICHAEL BURWELL