North Central’s distance juggernaut was loading up for the 1,600 meters in a desperate attempt to wrest the Greater Spokane League boys track championship away from Mead in a battle of unbeatens Thursday afternoon at Mt. Spokane.
A basketball-camp injury shy of key points in the sprints and hurdles, the Indians figured if they were to have any hope of challenging the Panthers they needed to keep Andrew Gardner from scoring.
He had seen that before and he was ready. Gardner blistered the final two laps, setting the tone for the Panthers’ 100.33-44.67 romp past the Indians in a four-way meet that included the Wildcats and Lewis and Clark.
“I don’t know what to say to that,” Mead senior Mike Smith said of his sophomore teammate. “He’s always a good one to watch. He caught us all by surprise.
“We always do that thing where (coach John) Mires put their best times against our best times, to show what the outcome can come out to. Mires had the (1,600) points going to them so I think that made him mad to try to prove him wrong.”
Mt. Spokane also beat NC, 78-66, creating a three-way tie for second between those two and Central Valley, at 7-2.
Meanwhile the girls meet was shaping up quite differently. After clipping Central Valley last week in a showdown of unbeatens, some of the Panthers were a little flat.
The Wildcats put the pressure on early when coach Annette Helling’s senior daughter, Sammie Pedersen, surged from behind to win the 100-meter hurdles in a personal record of 16.7 seconds to win a GSL individual event for the first time.
Again it was Baylee Mires, who won four individual distance races last week, to the rescue for Mead.
After running a hot 400 (57.3 seconds) and a fast 800 (2 minutes, 13.6 seconds), Mead coach Dori Robertson had to call onMires to run the 3,200 at a pace to edge the best Mt. Spokane runner, and come back to run the anchor leg of the 1,600 relay.
“It shouldn’t take Baylee to clean up other people’s messes,” one Mead coach groused.
Of course, she came through just fine, with not much stress in the relay after a solid opening leg by Melissa Macy, and the Panthers edged the Wildcats 78½-71½ to finish 9-0.
Also notable was NC’s Katie Knight running 4:58.3 in the 1,600 to break the league-meet record of 4:58.3 established by Rogers’ Jessica Fry in 1994.
The boys’ 1,600 was the early attention-getter with NC having five runners with better times than Gardner and three set to run him down for a 9-0 sweep in points.
“Based on what they did last year, they boxed me in, they were going to use the 800 guys to out-kick me,” Gardner said. “I just didn’t even mess with that. With 500 to go I decided to pick it up and see what happens.”
What happened is he ran a 58-second last lap, a 2:01 second half and shaved more than 7 seconds off his season best, winning in 4:19.7, the No. 3 time in the league this year.
“I know I can run fast times if I have a fast pace from the start,” said Gardner.
Gardner doubled back in the 3,200 at the end of the meet, facing a fresh Vince Hamilton, who had just run a state-best, 8:58.26 on Saturday, eighth-best in the nation this spring and 20th all-time in Washington.
They ran together until it was Gardner pulling away to win by 5 seconds, his time of 9:14.7, a season best by 22 seconds.
“He was fresh and I came back, that was good,” said Gardner, who set a state record for freshmen of 9:01.40 a year ago to finish second at state (4A). “I was a little tired but I’ve been ready for this race the last seven days, running against the NC guys. After the mile, everything was pretty much set. I got so much confidence from that. I’m ready to run fast times, I just haven’t been racing fact times. I’m ready.
“He ran fast on Saturday; I was thinking he would go fast again. But in the fourth lap I said today wasn’t about time, it’s place.”
Which is the attitude all the Panthers had.
“We always know it is big competition for us,” Smith said after placing in both hurdles and helping the state’s defending and second-ranked 4A 400 relay team win handily against a good Mt. Spokane quartet. “Mires always tries to underestimate us just to make us mad but I know he has faith in us.
“It’s always feels great. Knowing how great a team North Central is. They’ve won a lot of state (3A) championships and they always say the only team standing in the way of an unbeaten season is us. It’s really nice to be that team.”