SHIPPENSBURG - Don't misunderstand Brandon Rogers, he and his Milton 400 relay teammates were anything but disappointed Saturday. But, he felt the need to point out the Black Panthers ran better at the District 4 meet last weekend than they did this weekend at the PIAA Track and Field Championships.
It's hard to imagine Rogers and his teammates could have done much more Saturday at Shippensburg University. The Black Panthers, seeded 22nd in the 400 relay coming into the weekend, finished fourth Saturday in the Class AAA 400 relay with a time of 43.13.
"My goal, personally, for the year was just to make it here. To make it on the podium is amazing," Rogers said. "There's nothing that can make me as happy. The only thing we could have gone better was gold, but this is nice."
Milton was seeded 22nd with its district-meet winning time of 43 seconds. So when the team of Rogers, Tyrel Kling, Trevor Zimmerman and Chris Reuss posted times this weekend of 43.16 and 43.13, it was right in the ballpark of what Rogers thought the team was capable of.
And along the way, the Black Panthers became the lowest seeded team to medal in the 400 relay. Gateway won the event with a time of 41.65 to match its top seed. Erie Cathedral Prep was second and Seneca Valley was third. Kiski finished eighth despite being seeded 20th.
The Black Panthers constantly hover around the line between being a AA and AAA school and only recently made the jump back to AAA. Milton had the smallest enrollment of the eight medal-winning schools in the 400 relay by nearly 200 students.
"I've been saying it all week, we're the little team from Milton that shocked the world," Rogers said. "We're going to go back and celebrate with the town and have a good day."
FINAL PUSH: Garrett Evans received the baton about 25 meters behind the lead pack as the anchor leg in the 1,600 relay. He immediately made a charge, and just 150 meters into his 400-meter leg, the Montoursville senior had caught the lead pack and could see how close he and the Warriors were to a state title.
But he also sensed the lead pack was probably going to pull away.
"I saw them slow up. I was one pace the whole time," Evans said. "I knew deep down they were saving it. You could tell."
As Evans came out of the final turn, the pack pulled away. Evans made a valiant effort to keep pace before finishing sixth in the PIAA meet's final track event. The team of Evans, Josh Walker, Jim McMahon and Clay Stoner joined the Lewisburg team of Will Sumfest, Nick Scullin, Sean Walker and Udoka Eze as state medalists in the 1600 relay. Lewisburg finished seventh.
Montoursville bested its preliminary time in finishing sixth in 3:29.24. Lewisburg took seventh in 3:31.92.
"It was about the 100 meter mark where I finally started to really die and I knew those guys still had juice left," Evans said. "As the anchor man, you're either out front from the start or you're chasing. At that point I was chasing and caught up. I thought I could keep it, but ..."
Sean Walker gave the Green Dragons a strong leg of running despite finishing fourth in the 1,600 earlier in the day. Lewisburg ran toward the back of the pack much of the race, but was able to catch Church Farm School on the final lap to take seventh.
"We couldn't have asked for anything more from Sean," Sumfest said. "He put it all on the track in the four by four and it helped us finish seventh. We were pleased with our time. It was really tough with the wind around the bend. We started in Lane 8 so it was really tough. We had a long way to go in the wind, but we felt good to improve on our seeding."
FIRST CALL: Lewisburg's Emily Maxwell finally received the opportunity she has been waiting for at the PIAA Track and Field Championships. The senior who has always been listed as an alternate on Lewisburg's relays teams in the past stepped onto the track and led her own 3,200-meter relay team to a fourth-place finish on Saturday.
Montoursville placed seventh.
The Green Dragons finished in 9:40.23.
"We're proud that we got to represent Lewisburg and place when our relay didn't even make it here last year," Maxwell said, "And to come back and place so highly, we're all really proud."
The Green Dragons could be back next year. Maxwell, who will attend Division III Denison University in the fall and continue swimming, is the lone senior on the team that also includes freshman Allison Graham, junior Maddie Scarr and sophomore Jenna Farmer.
All four Warriors will return after finishing in 9:46.91.
"It feels amazing to leave here with a medal," Alexis Weisser said. "We are happy that we placed and we all did the best we could."
Weisser was joined on the relay by freshmen Cheyenne Wood and Nicole Weisser and sophomore Madi DeWald.
DISTRICT 4 FLAVOR: Fifty percent of the 12 finalists in the boys Class AA 1,600-meter run were from District 4 on Saturday and four of them reached the medal stand. Northeast Bradford's Sam Williams edged Lewisburg's Sean Walker for third place. Williams finished in 4:30.11 and Walker in 4:30.29.
Wellsboro's Bobby Hill (7th) and Danville's Tyler Vella (8th) rounded out the District 4 medal winners. Hughesville's Jay Hiller was 10th and Southern Columbia's Andrew Steely 11th.
North East's Ryan Smathers won the race in 4:22.69, defeating Devon Prep's Tom Seykora by almost 6 seconds. Second through eighth, however, were separated by less than 7 seconds.
"It was really crowded and everyone was fighting for the same thing I was and everyone wanted a medal bad so they were all bunched up," said Hill, who left Shippensburg with his first PIAA medal.
Hill said he knew he was in a dogfight for one of the final two spots on the podium. He was able to keep on eye on the runners in front of him and received help from his coach shouting his position throughout the four-lap race.
"I told myself I had to do it because this was my last high school track meet of my life and I knew I had to go," said Hill, who hopes to walk on at Penn State next year.
Walker will run cross country and track at Division I Furman in South Carolina next year. The senior broke out to a quick start on Saturday and comfortably ran in the top three for the majority of the race before being edged at the finish.
"I wanted to match everyone's moves, but the at the end I kind of got caught and didn't kick soon enough," Walker said, "but I'm happy with fourth."
ROCK-PAPER-SCISSORS: Jersey Shore senior Mac Thompson cleared 14-6 in the boys Class AAA pole vault and finished in a tie for sixth place.
"Now that I'm on the podium, it's a good feeling and it shows hard work does pay off," Thompson said.
He shared the podium with Altoona's Kolby Koeck and the two played a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors to see who would take a medal home Saturday and see who would wait for it to arrive in the mail. It was a game Thompson won a rarity for the senior who will attend Lock Haven University in the fall.
"I'm usually not that good at Rock-Paper-Scissors, so that was a good accomplishment for me to win that," he said.
North Penn's Vincent Esposito was one of two vaulters to reach 15 feet and won the event. Seven vaulters finished at 14-6. Thompson figured he placed seventh or eighth, but jumped for joy when it was announced he was tied for sixth.
"I was totally surprised," Thompson said.
TEAM CHAMPIONS: Swenson Arts and Technology won the girls Class AA team title with 77 points. Central Columbia was fourth with 19 points and Montoursville was in a four-way tie for seventh place with 18 points. Hempfield won the girls Class AAA team trophy with 53 points. Selinsgrove was 11th with 14 points.
West Middlesex won the Class AA boys with 60 points. Southern Columbia was tied for 14th with 15 points.
Bensalem won the boys Class AAA trophy with 48 points, two points better than Gateway.