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No sunset for the Apollos

The Apollo boys win their first state track championship since '94
by: Miles Vance STATE STAR — Sunset’s Briley Beaton lets out a yell after running the final leg of his team's winning 4 x 400-meter relay on Saturday at the Class 6A state track meet.

EUGENE - Sunset wasn't going to let this one slip away.

The Apollos boys track team led Roseburg by just a single point heading into the final event at the Class 6A state meet on Saturday at Hayward Field, but that one point - and the state's best 4 x 400-meter relay team - was all the edge Sunset needed.

The Apollos closed out the state meet in dramatic fashion, winning the 4 x 400 by just more than a second over the Indians, and in the process, wrapped up their first state track crown since 1994. Sunset finished with a meet-best total of 58 points, while Roseburg took second at 55 and Barlow was third at 51.

The victory set off a prolonged celebration by the Apollos, who previously swept through the Metro League dual-meet season without a loss and also won the 2011 Metro district title.

'There's nothing greater right now,' said senior Alan Bell, who ran the third leg on the 4 x 400 relay, took seventh in the intermediate hurdles and also ran on Sunset's runner-up 4 x 100 relay. 'Coming into this meet where my favorite race, the 4 x 4, comes down to a meet title. There's nothing better or more special.'

'Winning was in the back of our minds, so we just kept trying and trying,' said sophomore Eric Zechenelly, who ran the lead leg in the 4 x 400 and also took fourth in the intermediate hurdles. 'But it took the whole team. It was a team effort to get the points.'

'I can't imagine anything more special than right now,' added junior Briley Beaton, who ran the anchor leg in the 4 x 400 and also took sixth in the 400 meters.

The Apollos made key use of almost all their opportunities to score in the meet, which opened Friday and concluded Saturday at Hayward. That effort started on Friday when junior Alex Lou cleared 13 feet, 6 inches for a personal best and a sixth-place finish in the pole vault. Also from Friday, senior Aaron Back set a 17-second PR in the 3000, crossing the finish line in 8 minutes, 39.82 seconds to place third.

Sunset continued its onslaught right from the get-go on Saturday, starting its day with a fourth-place finish in the high jump by junior Rocky Tufty, who cleared a personal-best height of 6-4 in the event.

Next up, Sunset hit the track and hit it hard, with Bell, Branden Helms, Ian Banks-Clark and Reggie Coulter hurtling to second place in the 4 x 100 relay in another season's best time of 42.26.

Back (who will run next year at Boise State) broke through again in Saturday's 1500 meters, posting yet another personal best en route to taking third at 4:00.51.

'I'm happy because I outscored what I was supposed to do in both events and that really helps our team,' he said. 'And I'm happy because I got PRs in both races.'

Two races later, it was Helms' and Beaton's turn, Helms notching a season's best 49.73 to take fifth in the 400 while Beaton crossed in 49.77 to take sixth.

'I feel great. That's the fastest I've ever raced before. I loved it,' Helms said.

Helms was back in action three events later, and this time, he was even better, running 21.54 to take third in the 200.

About the only event where the Apollos didn't PR was in the day's next-to-last event, the 300 intermediate hurdles. Zechenelly entered with the state's top time, but admittedly didn't run his best race and settled for a fourth-place finish at 39.69, while Bell took seventh at 40.24.

'It's not the best,' Zechenelly said. 'It's not what I wanted, but you've got to dig through it and push on to the next race.'

'We're still there. Eric and I are both on the 4 x 400 and we still have a chance to clinch it,' Bell said. 'We're hoping to get our team up there and have a chance.'

Truer words were never spoken, and Zechenelly and Bell got their chance to make up for that performance just 45 minutes later in the day's final race, the meet-deciding 4 x 400.

And the Apollos made the most of that chance, with Zechenelly taking the lead leg out strong, handing off cleanly to Helms for a second blistering lap, then to Bell for a third straight lap in the lead, and then home with Beaton holding off a strong charge by Roseburg anchor Korey Smith for the win.

'There was a little redemption there,' Zechenelly said. 'I was trying to come out hard and give as big a lead as I could to my team and then hopefully they took the rest of it from there.'

'My goal, running after Branden - who's one of the fastest guys in the state - is just to keep that lead and hold it and hand it off to another one of the fastest guys in the state right here (Beaton) and he takes care of the rest,' Bell said.

'I have the honor of running with the three greatest men I've ever known,' Beaton added. 'I have never gotten the baton and been behind, ever. That's how good these guys are.'

Needless to say, the Apollos reveled in their moment in the sun.

'We came out here and said 'Let's be the underdog. Let's show them who Sunset is. Let's put Sunset on the map,'' Helms said. 'And we did.'