Oscar Smith Boys Show Eyes of the Tiger in 6A Boys Title Quest
At first glimpse, it seemed too odd to be true. Not the fact that Chantilly's Brandon McGorty was leading the 800 with just a straightaway to go. McGorty had already won the 1600 in 4:13, and has run 1:48 for the two-lapper twice, including once last year, when he upset now professional distance runner and sub-4 miler Drew Hunter at the Dogwood Track Classic in Charlottesville.
McGorty's lead made sense. What seemed to defy logic was the 5'11" runner in the royal blue jersey with yellow letters suddenly making a move toward the 6'6" runner's shoulder. Fans of McGorty figured he could shake off the challenge with one last surge.
But it never happened. And with one Herculean effort, Oscar Smith junior Pete Smith gave McGorty an 800 scare that he probably has not experienced in quite a while.
"I knew he'd be coming," said McGorty, just a minute after narrowly defeating Smith by .08 seconds (1:55.01-1:55.09) for the 6A 800 title. "I was trying to keep it tactical." Asked if he expected as much of a surge as Smith provided, McGorty could only answer, "No."
Adding more surprise to Smith's effort came from the fact that he had taken the mentally draining SAT's earlier that morning.
"It was a slower pace out front, and I wanted to save enough for the end," said Smith, whose time was half a second off his PR, but follows a pattern shared with McGorty of being competent at a variety of racing distances. Smith's best times include 23.4 for the 200, 50 seconds for the 400, 4:17 in the 1600, 9:42 for the 3200, and 15:15 for the 5K in cross-country. Speaking of McGorty, he added, "He's a great runner. In general, Virginia has some really great 800 runners."
Smith will be running at the New Balance Nationals in two weeks and aiming for a 1:52 in the 800.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 6A meet came from the Chesapeake team, who gave its better known crosstown rival, Western Branch, a vicious run for the 6A boys' championship.
After Micaiah Harris' win in the 400, the Bruins had tallied 58 points, ahead of T.C. Williams (40), and Lake Braddock (32), with Oscar Smith (31) in fourth.
However, the Tigers were not ready to roll over. In the next event, the 300-meter hurdles, Alfred Shirley III took the gold in 37.42, with teammates Kurt Powdar (39.38 - 4th) and brother Aaron Shirley (6th - 39.41) giving Smith 18 points to six for the Branch, and closing the margin to 64-49. When Alfred Shirley's eight points for placing second in the long jump (24-1) were added to the team totals, the lead cut to seven at 64-57.
Pete Smith's eight points in the 800 pushed Oscar Smith to a tenuous one point lead (65-64) over the defending champions with just the 200 and 4x400 remaining.
Harris won the 200 (21.11), while Jahkwan Blakely picked up a key pair of points for finishing seventh (22.22), stretching the Branch lead to 76-65. However, Smith's win in the day's final event, the 4x400 relay, pushed the final margin back to a single point, with Coach Toukene's team escaping with a 76-75 team championship.
And just as before, it was the quartet of Tigers who made it happen on the 4-by-4, with Powdar leading off, Alfred and Aaron Shirley running the second and third legs, and Smith anchoring Oscar Smith to a winning time of 3:17.04.
Next year looks promising for the Tigers with Smith returning for his senior year, while Powdar and Aaron Shirley will be juniors next year.