FAIRVIEW PARK — What seemed to be impossible or highly unlikely became reality Thursday evening.
The Buckeye boys track team’s streak of consecutive Patriot Athletic Conference titles ended at seven, as Firelands rallied to win the eighth annual PAC Championships 114½-106½.
The Bucks captured their seven titles by an average margin of 60 points. Only once in that run was it less than 39 points. That’s when it won by 12½ over Black River in 2008.
But between injuries and bad luck, things finally caught up with Buckeye over the course of the two-day meet.
The Falcons rallied to take the lead for the first time following the 800-meter run. Firelands held the lead until the Bucks tied things at 106½ heading into the 4×400-meter relay — the final event.
The meet ended in somewhat bizarre fashion.
Firelands clinched the title when Buckeye junior Michael Keith had the baton knocked out of his hand through incidental contact with Clearview’s Will Correa. It occurred during the last 80 meters of the second leg of the final relay. The Bucks and Clippers were battling for third place at the time, about 20-30 meters behind second-place Firelands.
A disgusted Keith looked for an interference call. None came. When Keith finally collected himself and finished his leg, the Bucks’ fate was long sealed.
Firelands finished second (3:39.36) in the race for eight points and Buckeye went scoreless (4:22.93).
“I don’t know what happened, but I know we gave it our all,” said Bucks junior Chance Ziegler, who led off the 4×4. “I don’t know what happened over there, but there’s not much you can do about it.”
The Buckeye boys were held scoreless in the three sprints relays, but one in particular stood out.
The 4×200 was disqualified and lost six potential third-place points. The second exchange between junior Lee Mandanici and Dave Grayzanic was ruled outside the exchange zone. The 4×100 finished ninth, one place out of scoring.
The sprint woes weren’t a complete shock. The team’s No. 1 sprinter — senior Caleb Kupetz — was sidelined with a hamstring pull suffered last week at Sandusky Perkins. Kupetz was the defending 400 champion and the No. 1 seed in the 400 and 200.
“Without Caleb today, it’s a little disappointment,” Ziegler said. “We definitely did the best we could. It was close coming down to the wire. Firelands did a great job.”
The Falcons last won a conference title when they won five in a row to close out the Lorain County Conference, which folded after the 2004-05 school year.
“We were as prepared as we could be today,” Ziegler said. “It’s just something that’s unfortunate. There’s nothing we can do about it. We’ll be back next year.”
Keith’s win in the 300 hurdles, along with senior Ryan Gallagher’s victory in the 1,600 (4:27.84), were Buckeye’s only first-place awards. The Bucks did as well as they did because they also had second-place performances in the 110 hurdles, pole vault and 4×800, plus thirds in the 200, 400 and discus.
“Any number of things were a game-changer,” Buckeye coach Jim Huth said. “We didn’t have a number of senior boys here. That really hurt us. It would have made a big difference.”
Contact Paul Heyse at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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