By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
MISSOULA - The 400 relay jinx is over and the drive for five was alive on Saturday afternoon in Missoula for the KG boys track team.
Thanks to solid individual performances from Casey Crites and Thomas Marshall and a win in the 400 relay, the KouGars won an unprecedented fifth-straight Class C boys title at the Missoula Big Sky High School Track.
KG scored 71 team points to easily outdistance Harlowton which finished with 43. Scobey and Manhattan Christian scored 36 points apiece to finish third while Chester was fourth with 30 points.
"I'm just glad we won it," said Crites, who won the 100 and 200 and finished second in the high jump and long jump. "I could have won everything, but if we wouldn't have the won the team title, I wouldn't have been happy."
While KG head coach Butch Marshall expected Crites and Thomas Marshall to score some points, he was hoping for a little luck in the cursed 400 relay. In the past few years, the KouGars have been plagued by dropped batons and disqualifications in the event preventing them from running in the state finals.
Marshall knew coming in that the team of Richie Melby, Thomas Marshall, Tyler Kapperud and Crites could compete for the title as long as they got to the finals. The foursome went with safe exchanges in the preliminaries to make the finals. And once in the finals they let loose as Crites made up about a five-yard deficit on the anchor leg to edge Harlowton's anchor runner Wylie Galt at the tape by a hundredth of a second.
"I think I finally relaxed a little after the 400 relay," Butch Marshall said. "That was probably the biggest highlight for me especially after the bad luck we've had in that event before. It was pretty special."
The win in the 400 gave KG the lead, but Crites' win in the 100 and Thomas Marshall's win in the 110 hurdles clinched it.
"After Thomas and Casey won those events, I was pretty confident," Butch Marshall said.
On a blistering hot day in Missoula, the sun and heat was definitely a factor for athletes. Even Crites, who was doing a good job of staying out of the sun, pulled up in the 400-meter finals to finish last.
"Casey said he didn't feel like he had anything left," Marshall said. "He decided to save some for the high jump and 200."
Crites admitted the 400 wasn't his best event and knew that he would need something left in his tank for the high jump, where he was the two-time defending champ. However, after Crites edged out Galt in the 400 relay, Galt returned the favor in the high jump. Both Crites and Galt cleared 6-6, and missed on three attempts at 6-7. Galt got the title because of fewer misses. Crites narrowly missed on his first attempt at 6-7 clipping the bar with his left heel.
"I was disappointed more with how they ran the event than losing," Crites said. "You have to give (Galt) credit, he's a great jumper."
Crites didn't have much time to dwell on the loss having to run the 200 minutes later. He took out some frustrations in that race winning the 200 with a time of 23.12, edging out Scobey's Erik Haddenhorst.
"That Haddenhorst is a big kid," Crites said. "He's strong, coming down the stretch like that. I have a hard time believing I outlasted him."
Said Butch Marshall: "That's the way Casey is, he is such a competitor. To come out like that in the 200 after losing showed a lot of guts."
Thomas Marshall was solid in the 110 hurdles, beating Chester's Nick Lasorte by two-tenths of a second. KG's Luke Antonich finished with sixth in the 110's. Marshall finished second in the 300 hurdles as he was beaten by his rival Kade Greany of Augusta. Marshall beat Greany at divisionals.
"Thomas was a little disappointed about not winning the 300 hurdles, he had his heart set on winning both hurdle races," Butch Marshall said. "But Greany is tough and ran a good race."
Chester picked up a pair of event wins as Patrick Walstad dominated the 800 meters, winning by almost two seconds. The Coyotes also won the 1,600 relay as the team Walstad, Kevin Fenger, Logan Lyders and Patrick Wicks outlasted Shields Valley and KG.
Big Sandy's Mason Ophus won the discus as predicted, while his teammate, Adam Butler, finished fourth in the 3,200. Blue Sky finished fourth and fifth in the 1,600- and 400-meter relays.
On the girls side, KG's Kim Berg won her third consecutive javelin title with a throw of a 134-11. But it wasn't an easy win. Berg struggled in her preliminary throws and was seeded fourth in the finals.
"I threw bad in the trials," Berg said.
In the finals, Berg grabbed the lead on her first throw which was 133-plus. However, Charlo's Dani Finley bested that mark on her second throw with a toss of 134-1. With one final throw left, Berg came up with a toss of 134-11 to take the lead.
"I just decided to have fun and let it loose," Berg said.
The theory worked, however Berg was forced to sit and watch three more competitors take their final throws. All three came up short and Berg was a very happy and a very relieved three-time state title winner.
"Oh my God, I was so scared," Berg said. "I am not used to have to watch like that. I am just so happy to win, (Finley) is a very good thrower."
Berg was the only local winner, but other girls placed in events. Blue Sky's Kile Patrick finished sixth in the 1,600 and 800 while the Blue Sky 1,600 relay team finished third.
But the day belonged to the KG boys. When it comes to summing up the dominance that his boys have had as of late, Butch Marshall didn't know exactly how to express it.
"It's really a neat feeling," Marshall said. "We've had some really great kids. I don't know if I can put it into words, but we knew we were going to have some good kids coming up when it started in 1998 and the work ethic that they set kind of sifted down to these kids. Our community really supports track and field and that doesn't happen in a lot of other places."