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Mid Wach D X-Country: Panthers Finish Runner-Up to State Title Threat Gardner

LUNENBURG– Halloween is known for some freaky occurrences, and in Saturday’s Mid Wach D boys’ league championship meet the spirit of the season was on full display. After the top two runners in the race got lost in the markings, the entire pack followed. After a 45-minute protest after the meet, no athletes were disqualified and the Panthers were able to secure the silver medal, which was what the team had hoped for going in. Gardner proved that it might be vying for a state title this year, as the top six of its runners finished on the podium as league all-stars (top 10 in the league), and the Wildcats cruised to the D title with 22 points. Ayer Shirley was able to avenge a loss to Maynard in the dual meet slate, securing second place with 63 points. Maynard followed in third with 86 points, followed by Narragansett Regional 91 points, Murdock (142), Tahanto (153), and Clinton (179). “Everybody needs to know the course,” Ayer Shirley Regional boys’ cross country head coach Chris Donovan said. “So the fact that we didn’t ultimately is more on me than anyone else. Whenever anything goes off course, I look at it as, should I have prepared the kids more? It’s something that’s a learning experience that we need to look at, at getting better moving forward. “The whole thing didn’t affect the team scoring.,” Donovan continued. “All the coaches agreed after the fact, that where we ended as teams would’ve been exactly where we would’ve been. Gardner would’ve won the league, and they did, and they deserve it. Gardner’s a great team.” Freshman Jake Leone led the pack out of the gates, after securing first in all his races throughout the season. But in an early left-hand turn, got lost on the markings, along with Gardner’s Telmo Iturbe. The entire pack of the race soon followed. Race organizers were able to get everybody back on track, but disqualified Iturbe and Leone. Both the Gardner coaches and Ayer coaches protested the ruling, and after 45 minutes of discussion, no participants received a disqualification. “Our team was there, parents, and community members, and it was a weird day to have a meet under protest,” Donovan said. “But I was really proud of the way that everybody handled themselves. We let cooler heads prevail and let everything settle the way it probably should’ve been.” Iturbe won the race with a 19 minute 14.50 second time, but all runners exceeded the 5K total the race was expected to be, so times were not reflective of the course. Leone finished second overall with a 19:22.90, marking the first race he has not won all season. “After they straightened it out, (Leone) finished as expected,” Donovan said. “Where he was in the mix with a few Gardner kids. (Leone) ran a good race, and he knew (Iturbe) would be a tough matchup. He beat him head-to-head in the dual meet, but he knew he’d have to keep an eye on him.” Gardner took home 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, and even had a displacer in 9th place. Cole New was the only other Panther besides Leone to crack the top 10, finishing 8th with a 20:02.92. “(New) finished 8th in the league, which is where he would’ve been regardless of the mishap,” Donovan said. “For him to get a league all-star was very solid. He had a good day. It was his first cross country all-star achievement.” New is an accomplished 400-meter runner in track and field and is already getting the attention of Division 1 college track and field coaches this season as a junior. Nathan Baptista (21:10.42) finished 14th as the third best Ayer Shirley runner, Jack Holden (21:52.97) and Cole Heinle-Kleczka (22:02.52) finished in the top 20, in 19th and 20th overall. Ryan Gill (40th) and Tyler Driscoll (42nd) served as the team’s displacers in the meet. Although virtually all runners in the race were nowhere near personal bests having to run more than the 5K which the race was, there was one runner in Alexander Baptista who proved to be the exception to the rule, posting his career best with a 25:19.00 Donovan said that besting Maynard was the goal going into the meet, while trying to topple Gardner would need a “Herculean” effort. Next Saturday Ayer Shirley will travel to Northfield Mountain to compete in the Division 3C State Qualifier Meet. “League’s doesn’t lead to divisional’s’,” Donovan said. “I got off the bus and told the kids that we start fresh now. We expected to take second at league’s, which is what we did, the state qualifier is November 11 at Northfield Mountain, and the expectation is that we can make the state meet. Nothing’s changed, we have great runners and pride on our team, and we’ll use (league’s) as motivation.”

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