Mitchell finishes third in Class 3A behind Flagler Palm Coast and Plant.
By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 24, 2002
TAMPA -- When Mitchell needed to be great Saturday, the Mustangs were merely good.
Good enough to finish third in the Class 3A meet at the Ed Radice Sports Complex. But not good enough to keep Plant from taking the runner-up trophy home behind state champion Flagler Palm Coast.
Mustangs coach Bill Napolitano said his team needed a perfect race to finish in the top two and have a shot at the title if Flagler faltered.
But Flagler did not. Neither did Plant. Instead, it was Mitchell, on the morning of the biggest race in the young program's three seasons, that did.
"It's definitely not a good feeling for us," Mustangs sophomore Jeff Masterson said. "We really worked hard all season for this. There's nothing you can say."
Flagler placed four runners in the top 20 -- second, ninth, 13th and 19th -- and won the title with 71 points. Plant runners finished 18th, 20th, 22nd and 39th to win the runner-up title with 134 points.
Just nine points behind was Mitchell. Masterson came in third in 16 minutes, 2 seconds, Danny Sheehan was 24th (16:43), Brandon Steiner 28th (16:47) and John Tuccio 32nd (16:49).
But it was the fifth position that proved troublesome for the Mustangs. Neither David Stricsek (107th; 17:55) or Gus Luna (149th; 18:39) could close the gap with Plant. If No. 7 runner Rob Clendening hadn't surprised his teammates by finishing 88th in 17:39, the Mustangs might not even have been third.
But Saturday's race cannot dampen what Mitchell accomplished. The third-year program put itself on the cross-country map, winning the UF Invitational, Sunshine Athletic Conference, district and region titles. Only Sheehan is a senior, so six runners return to a team that will again be among the best in the state.
"I'd be a liar if I said I didn't want that runner-up title," Napolitano said. "That's what we had a shot at. That's what we wanted.
"But we finished third and that caps off a great season for us. We had a lot of great accomplishments. It's been a great season and a great run."
Masterson faced the toughest race of the day. Ocala Vanguard's Steven Hassen won his duel with Flagler's Sam Vasquez, running 15:24 to win by 21 seconds.
"Those guys are great runners," Masterson said. "You can't take anything away from them. They know when to shine and they shined when they had to."
Said Sheehan: "That hurts pretty bad. But they definitely deserved it. Plant, man, they ran awesome.
"I don't think it takes anything away from our season. But we could have had a better closing."
Central's Kurt Lee was 49th in 17:07, running with an abdominal cramp he picked up in the first mile.
In the Class 2A race, Bishop Kenny's Ryder Leary won the individual title in 15:28, pacing his team to the team championship.
Citrus' Tony Lyons led the North Suncoast, finishing 11th in 16:18. The Hurricanes finished eighth with the help of Matthew Baum's 50th-place finish (17:24). Justin MacDonald was 65th (17:44), Kyle Helt 94th (18:12) and Joseph Silvestro 108th (18:28).
Wesley Chapel's David Forry continued his hot postseason streak, finishing 17th in 16:35. Teammate Kurt Able was two seconds behind in 20th.
Hernando's Michael Laird was 35th (17:03), leading the Leopards to ninth place. Logan Emerson finished 48th (17:21), Zachary Lukas 78th (17:57), Bret Chatman 80th (17:58) and Philip Dysart 118th (18:40). Zephyrhills' Jose Espinosa was 60th (17:37).