PEORIA – For most of the last mile, Crystal Lake Central’s Alex Baker and Glenbard South’s John Wold ran stride-for-stride, neither allowing the other to gain any ground.
Finally, in the final 400 meters, Wold was able to shake Baker.
“I was dead at that point,” Baker said. “He started to pull away and it kind of demoralized me. There were so many emotions.”
Mainly, there was joy. Although Baker could not catch Wold, he beat everybody else to finish as Class 2A boys’ runner-up at the IHSA Cross Country State Meet Saturday at Detweiller Park. It was the highest place for any boys’ runner in Central’s school history.
“It was fun,” said Baker, who took fifth last year. “I came into this race with a lot of confidence.”
Baker finished in 14:21, 5 seconds behind Wold. Prairie Ridge’s Joe Cowlin (14:39) was close behind to take fourth place and seemed just as excited as Baker.
“Second and fourth for the [Fox Valley] Conference, that’s right,” Cowlin said to his teammates. He even ran with a slight hindrance when his left shoelace came untied 600 meters into the race.
“I had tightened it before the start,” Cowlin said. “I was so scared the whole time my shoe was going to come off. This is the best race of my life.”
In the boys Class 3A race later McHenry sophomore Jesse Reiser finished seventh. In Class 1A, Richmond-Burton’s James Kaht was 19th to earn All-State honors and helped the Rockets to fifth place, their best team finish ever at state.
The places for Cowlin and Reiser also were the best in school history. Cowlin passed four runners in the final 800 meters to take fourth.
“That’s what I’ve always been good at is closing hard,” Cowlin said.
Central’s Ryan Pitner was 23rd in Class 2A and the Tigers were fourth as a team with 182 points, missing a trophy by one spot. Chicago Jones Prep (85), Belvidere North (126) and Yorkville (129) were the top three teams.
“Teamwise, we ran awesome,” Central coach Bill Eschman said. “That’s about the best we could get.”
Reiser, who has been impressive all season, did it again Saturday.
“Oh, yeah, that’s my best race,” he said. “At a mile and a half, I was surprised a little and I stuck with it. My goal was just to get All-State [top 25]. This is way better than what I thought I’d get. I feel honored to have a great team and coaches to help me through this.”
R-B took advantage of dropping from Class 2A to 1A this year by qualifying as a team. The Rockets won the Lisle Sectional last week.
“I think we ran fine,” R-B coach Keith Forth said. “There’s a lot of good competition here. This is where you’re supposed to turn it up a notch.”
Kaht certainly did that in the last 800 meters, moving into the top 20.
“I’m pretty shocked,” Kaht said. “In that last half mile I made my move and got as many guys as I could. I was really trying to figure out what place I was in, but you don’t really think that much when you’re out there, you just try and do it.”