JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Darrien Case executed the plan, but he still finished the 800-meter run in the Class 5 Missouri State Track and Field Championships looking over his right shoulder.With a top 11 separated by less than 4 seconds, Case held off the second-lap challenge from a flurry of contenders to become the second individual state champion in program history. The senior standout finished in 1 minute, 53.63 seconds — bettering his school record set in a victory at the prestigious KU Relays earlier in the season by .02 of a second — after reeling off a blistering first 400 meters.
“I knew that the guys who were competition were all running the mile,” Case said. “I knew that I had to come out and run a fast first lap and make sure they couldn’t hang on in the second, so that was the plan to begin with and ran it how I wanted to.”
Case entered the final meet of his career with one state medal and left with three more.
The 800 started his busy weekend. The UMKC-bound long distance specialist dropped his other individual events to focus on the two-lap competition in the postseason, putting all of his focus on the afternoon race.
Case turned in a 53.647-second split on the opening lap and held a lead of about 2 seconds.
The pack started to close in the final 100 of the second lap with Case starting to labor and glancing nervously around for his closest competitor. St. Louis University High’s Dustan Davidson, a junior, came the closest to catching Case but wound up .40 of a second behind.
“I was questioning it,” said Case, who became the first boys athlete for the Panthers to win a state title since Cory Beenken captured the first in 2009 (300 hurdles). “I started to tighten up the last 50, and I was like, ‘OK. Just come on. You’ve just got 50 more. Fifty more and you can be a champion.’ I just kept telling myself it wasn’t over until I passed the line.”
Park Hill South’s Mitch Henderson, a fellow senior, went with Case from the outset and entered the second lap in third place behind Davidison. He completed the final 400 faster than Case, breaking to the outside of the pack in the closing stretch, but couldn’t hold off Oakville junior Griffin Bailey for third.
Henderson came in fourth at 1:54.53 — a new career best — but was little more than a quarter of a second away from third.
“Working with a guy like Darrien, day in and day out, he pushes me. He makes me better,” Henderson said. “There’s no way I’d be here without him.”
Case and Henderson were also involved in the two-medal-winning relays on Saturday.
In the first running event, Henderson gave Park Hill South the lead after the second leg, and Case anchored the Panthers’ quartet to a fifth-place finish (8:04.58). They both ran on last year’s unit that placed fourth in a school-record 7:55.25, and sophomore Alexander Lee (first leg) and freshman Eli
Guzman (third leg) helped them medal for a second time in the event, finishing just behind Rockhurst as they did the week before at Sectional 4.
Tanner Alderson, a junior, and Nylo Clarke, a sophomore, teamed with Henderson and Case in the 4x400, placing sixth in Friday’s preliminaries and then maintaining that placement in Saturday’s final. The Panthers went 3:23.99 in Heat 1 to earn a guaranteed spot in the top eight, then ran even faster (3:23.58) despite falling to sixth.
Case and Henderson were on the 2014 4x400 team which did not advance from preliminaries.
Park Hill South finished with 22 team points, good for ninth in the final team standings, with just three individual qualifiers and the two relays. Grant Hudson, a sophomore, finished eighth in his heat of the 300 hurdles (42.85) after coming in second last week at Sectional 4 with a personal-best 41.61.
Park Hill South’s final medal went to senior Jordan Hammond in the 300 hurdles. She was unable to dip back into the 44-second range after setting her personal best in a District 8 victory, but she came in third in the second heat of preliminaries (45.02) to post the seventh-fastest time.
Hammond, a state qualifier in the 400 as a junior, finished seventh in Saturday’s final at 45.29 for her first career state medal.
Park Hill South’s 4x200 team of Jasmine Daniels, Maryn Burns, Emily Day and Izabella Pieper — all underclassmen — was seventh in Heat 2 of the preliminaries and 15th overall at 1:49.86, well off their state qualifying mark of 1:45.16. The Panthers’ 4x400 of Hammond, Burns, Day and Emma Roth ran 4:11.22 in prelims and posted the 15th fastest time, as well.