tampabay.com

Focused on the finish line

Hernando's Ben Martucci takes second, leading the Leopards to a second-place team finish.

By Izzy Gould
Published November 12, 2006


DADE CITY - The finishing hill at Little Everglades Ranch was merciless as it chewed up runners and dug its teeth deep into Ben Martucci. Hernando's top runner was focused on the finish.

A loud gasp suddenly hissed from the grandstand. The leader - Miami Belen Jesuit junior Guillermo Echarte - collapsed about 75 yards from the finish line. He would repeat a sequence of standing, falling and crawling the rest of the way, an image that tugged on many hearts.

Martucci suddenly found himself passing the fallen Echarte, looking over trying to make sense of the moment.

"I was going to say something to him, but I was dying myself," Martucci said. "I was afraid I was going to do the same thing. ... If we weren't trying for a state championship, I was going to pick him up."

Instead, Martucci ended his career with a second-place finish while leading the Leopards to second in team competition at the Class 2A state meet. Philip Woerner of Gulliver finished first in 16:09. The fallen Echarte finished 12th.

Four Leopards finished in the top 20, including Martucci's twin, Andrew, at 11th (17 minutes, 6 seconds), Tyler Baldwin at 13th (17:12) and Joe Wright at 17th (17:16).

"He ran hard and did a good job," Hernando coach Mike Nicholson said of Martucci. "We're certainly happy with what he did. Most runners are going to have that same feeling to want their opponents to do the best they can."

Crystal River had a strong showing in eighth place, led by senior Brennan McNally, who finished 23rd (17:25). Lecanto senior Nick Farrington finished 12th (17:10), leading the Panthers to an 11th-place team finish.

In Class 3A, Land O'Lakes took 15th place, led by sophomore Felix Soto, who finished 22nd (17:08).

"I feel horrible," Soto said. "I don't think I was ready mentally."

Ridgewood junior Steven Landreth finished 59th (17:43). "I've been sick, and it's been making me feel weak," Landreth said. "It's my first time being here, and I didn't know what was going to happen. It was good competition."

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@sptimes.com or (727) 580-5315.