Dutton, Pearce perform best when pressure's on
ST. JOSEPH — Alec Dutton is adept at saving his best for last. Ryan Pearce has gotten good at surviving close calls.
The seniors from Salt Fork and Villa Grove, respectively, threw their weight around in Friday’s 39th annual St. Joseph-Ogden Spartan Classic.
For the second time in five days, Dutton secured a victory in the discus by posting the top mark on his final attempt. Both times, he was the next-to-last competitor and had to await a throw by Pearce.
Dutton’s 162-foot, 7-inch toss at the Spartan Classic was just off the Salt Fork record he set Monday (163-10) while winning the Tuscola Invitational, but it gave him a 32-inch margin over runner-up Pearce.
Needing to capture the lead on his last throw, Dutton said “is pressure, but it’s a good pressure. Sometimes it’s nice when all eyes are on you.”
He wasn’t surprised to improve his distance as he attempted more throws.
“How it works, it takes the first couple to loosen up,” Dutton said. “By the third and fourth throw, you’re loose.”
Salt Fork throws coach Herb Wilkins has tutored myriad outstanding shot and discus competitors. He sees something special in Dutton.
“This is no surprise,” Wilkins said. “This is the solution he put together.
“We met at 5:30 a.m. three days a week to lift all winter, all throughout basketball. This is as hard as I’ve had anyone work. And, he’s an ‘A’ student.”
Pearce, meanwhile, left his mark in the same manner he did Monday at Tuscola. He eclipsed meet records at both locations, each time by a scant one-half-inch margin in the shot. On Friday, his third toss was 57-3, which shattered a 23-year-old record (57-21/2) held by Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s Dave Foster.
On Monday, Pearce’s 58-2 effort bettered the Tuscola mark of 58-11/2 set 15 years ago by Arthur’s Matt McCarthy.
Area runners had their share of highlights as well, none better than St. Thomas More’s 3,200 relay, which established itself by winning the state indoor title in March.
The same foursome of Nick Hess, Sean Kelley, Jacob Helfrich and Sam Powers all had 800-meter splits of two minutes or less. Hess led off with a 1:59, and Powers finished in 1:57.
Their cumulative time of 7:57.83 smashed the meet record by 12.68 seconds.
“We emptied everything in the 4-by-8,” Powers said. “That was our main focus. Today, we felt it and got it done. Luckily, we were all on.”
Friday’s meet was just the third one outdoors for STM.
“We hadn’t raced in two weeks,” Sabers coach David Behm said. “We’ve just been training.”
The Sabers’ relay time ranks 10th on the all-time News-Gazette area honor roll. Behm doesn’t want Friday’s effort to be the season’s highlight.
“The state record (7:53.69 in Class 1A) is what we’re shooting for,” he said. The Sabers’ time at SJ-O would have won state three of the last six years, including 2012.
Less than 10 minutes after the relay, Hess returned to the track and had a strong final 200-meter kick to surge past Schlarman’s Jesse Hahne to capture the 3,200 meters in 9:29.94.
“I did not expect to win,” Hess said. “I’m surprised I had anything left. It’s rewarding to know I could do that after that hard of an 800.”
Hess’ school-record time places him 13th on the all-time area honor roll.
Powers also captured an individual event, running the open 800 in a season-best 1:58.41 to edge Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman’s Wyatt Avenatti. Another Saber with a first-place performance was long jumper Kevin Carroll.
Monticello’s Vinny Strack was also successful with a quick turnaround. He anchored the Sages’ triumphant 400-meter relay in a season-best 44.54 seconds and followed up with a first-place finish in the 110-meter high hurdles in 14.84.
“I thought I had a better race in the prelims, but I had a better time in the finals,” Strack said. “For three years, I’ve been doubling in the 4-by-1 and hurdles. I’m used to it.”
Unity’s Micah Johnson had the best qualifying time in the 100 and beat Monticello’s Matt Justus in the finals.
“It was pretty even to 50 meters,” Johnson said. “It felt pretty fast (11.21).”