Stefanie McCullough is the first to say that Lecanto girls track coach Freddie Bullock is always right, whether it be assessing injuries or talent.
Okay, so maybe not always right. After all, it was Bullock who dismissed Shalyn Barnes' claim late Thursday night that the Lecanto girls might still win the Panther Invitational. No way, Bullock figured, after surprisingly disappointing performances in the hurdles, a dropped baton in the 4x100 relay, and an off-night by her shot putters.
"Shalyn said we could still win it if we did well in the 2-mile," Bullock said. "I couldn't figure out how."
Lecanto did do well in the 2-mile thanks to a brilliant final kick by Melissa Kenney, and the Panthers snuck by Chiefland 158-139.
"I was surprised," Bullock said. "Usually our hurdles negate the other team's sprinters, but they didn't. We just couldn't seem to get anything rolling. Nothing was falling into place."
Except the final score.
Contrary to perceptions, it has been the Lecanto balance and hurdlers, not the distance runners, that have carried the team to its five victories this season. That changed Thursday night. "For the first time, our distance got more points than the hurdles," Bullock said.
McCullough's return was one reason. One of the North Suncoast's best milers and half-milers, she returned after missing the past few weeks with painful shin splints. She took third (right behind Kenney) in the 1,600-meter run. Melissa Crowley took third in the 800, and Kenney ran the 2-mile in a county-best 12:38, beating the previous best by 17 seconds.
"This was big for me and the seniors," said Bullock. "We really wanted to win this."
Crystal River was fifth with 72 points. Almost half those points (30) came via Holly Edstrom. The Pirates junior had her typically dominant meet, winning the triple jump (32 feet, 10 inches), 400 (1:00.51), and 200 (26.63).
Cicely Eason won the shot put.
The Lecanto boys finished second behind Class 5A Ridgewood 151.5-145.
Coach Tim Byrne said the boys meet swung on the long and triple jump. Lecanto has been able to score well in those two events all season, but neither Jeff Williams nor Ricardo Valle were able to finish in the top four in either event. Valle, who has jumped a county-best 22-11 this year, would have won the meet with a similar effort, and Williams, who has the best triple jump in the county, would have finished third.
Still, the Panthers were able to keep it close all night with some first-place performances by Jeff Hoki (pole vault at a county best 11-6), Frank Chelkonas (shot put, 47-7) and Williams (330 hurdles, county-best 41.00).
Crystal River finished a distant seventh with 29 points. The Pirates will be without hurdler Eric Bradley the rest of the season. At a meet at Lecanto two weeks ago, Bradley clipped his heel on a hurdle and landed wrong. Doctors discovered a fracture in the heel last week.
Brad Millet and Jimmy Grimsley were the only top four finishers for the Pirates. Millet was fourth in the 800, and Grimsley high-jumped 6 feet for third.