MILFORD >> The sizeable clutch of spectators surrounding the pole vault pit late Saturday afternoon at the KLAA Lakes Conference meet at Milford High consisted mostly of teams with vested interests in the outcome of the event.
Walled Lake Central, Grand Blanc, Hartland, Walled Lake Northern and Lakeland were among the squads hovering around the pit, watching their teammates taking their final attempts to determine the team scores.
But the stands were empty, partly because of the quality of the competition — they kept going higher and higher — and partly because of a delay when Walled Lake Northern’s Ramon Rogers injured himself in the long jump and had to be attended to at the pit by emergency medical personnel.
With all the running events done, the crowd had long filtered out as the vaulters took center stage.
In the end, Grand Blanc’s Evan Berger outlasted Northern’s Austin Schafer, Lakeland’s Tristin Coffin, Central’s Parker Krupic and Hartland’s Alex Babits to provide a dramatic outcome to an exciting competition.
All had cleared 13-feet, but Berger, who had run the 1,600 relay, finished them all off, one-by-one as his victory helped Grand Blanc claim the conference title by a point.
Babits was second (13-9), Schafer third (13-6) and Parker, who also ran the 1,600 relay for the Vikings, was fourth (13-0).
“Look how clutch that guy is, what a spectacular finish,” said Milford coach Brian Salyers, “... and nobody’s here. That’s what I feel bad about.”
Indeed, the competition was riveting in a meet stacked with notable performances.
“It was awesome cause it came down to the last event,” said Berger, whose coach, Ed Stanbury, wasn’t sure Berger could win, especially after running the 1,600 relay not too much earlier. But Berger, an all-state swimmer, proved he was a standout athlete.
“Crazy things here,” said Stanbury, who also noted the quality of competition. “It was a great track meet.”
To be sure, the Bobcats had their share of top performances. Drake Gauthier was perhaps the most impressive of them all.
He ran a 1:57 split on is 800 leg of the 3,200 relay, clocked a conference-record 48.95 in winning the 400, came back with little rest and beat a strong field in the 800 in 1:54.1, and opened the 1,600 relay with a 49-flat leg.
“I’m feeling it this year,” said Gauthier, who said he coasted the last 50 meters of the 400 to save himself for the 800. “We went back to the drawing board and it’s been going real well.”
The 800 was particularly noteworthy with as strong a field this side of the state meet.
Mott’s Brennan Munley was second (1:54.35), Milford’s Brian Kettle was third (1:55.49) and Walled Lake Western’s Austin Murray, whose move to the front with 300 meters to go set the pace for the finish, was fourth in 1:56.78.
Fisher, a strong candidate for the top high school distance runner in the nation, stayed within himself most of the 1,600 until he kicked and and came in at 4:14.78, finishing ahead of Walled Lake Western’s Mitchell Dennis (4:17.38) and Waterford Mott’s Tommy Osika (4:21.26), who was ahead of teammates Ryan Robinson (4:21.59) and Kyler Bush (4:24.34).
In the 3,200, Fisher had only Mott’s Sam Albaugh to pass and, stayed with the pack with 300 meters to go, zipped to the finish line in 9:33.
Albaugh found himself a reluctant leader most of the race. With a lap to go and Fisher on his shoulder, he anticipated the inevitable.
“He (Fisher) nudged me and said, ‘hey, let’s finish this together,’ said Albaugh, who was frustrated because he ended up leading most of the race because no one wanted to lead.
“Definitely the first time I thought after the race, I wish I hadn’t had to lead,” said Albaugh. “Me as a sacrifice. (But) it was the best race under bad conditions. Nobody was really fresh, everybody had run before that.”
Albaugh was second in 9:40.88 and Dennis was third in 9:43.33 in a race where 10 individuals broke 10 minutes.
“It’s a lot of fun coming here,” said Fisher, a national cross country champion and defending state champ in the 3,200. “This is one of the meets we wanted to win ... (so) I had to go three events.”
Indeed, multi-taskers were everywhere on both the boys and girls fronts.
Waterford Kettering’s Danotiss Smith made his bid for one of the fastest sprinters in Oakland County, taking the 100 (11.04) and 200 (22.29) dashes.
“My confidence has always been good, you just have to think positive,” said Smith, a junior.
Walled Lake Western’s John Witkowski was confident in his kick, using it to hunt down Grand Blanc on the anchor leg of the 1,600 relay and bring the Warriors the vitory.
Shane Moffo, who won the high hurdles, Kyle Thomas and Murray were on the winning crew that clocked 3:25.9.
Likewise, Waterford Mott’s Morgan Fuerst anchored the Corsairs to victory in the girls 1,600 relay with a strong anchor leg.