BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. — With Raytown South junior Vontrae Booker in peripheral sight, John Watts decided not to settle for easy qualification.
Platte County’s lanky junior anchor leg of the 4x400-meter relay charged to the finish line in the final race of the Class 4 Sectional 4 meet Saturday, May 20 at Blue Springs South High School to win the event for the Pirates in a season-best of 3 minutes, 24.89 second — about 3 seconds better than the previous best time. Raytown South came in second about a half second behind.
The 4x400 team will be back at the Missouri State Track and Field Championships for Platte County, looking for a third straight state medal.
“I knew it would be close,” said Watts, the only returning member of last year’s seventh-place state 4x400 team. “I looked over my shoulder and saw (Booker) on my butt so I tried to kick it in and bring it home for the team.”
Watts put up another big day and reversed the fortunes of a disappointing postseason a year ago.
Competing in four events, Watts placed fourth in the long jump with his top effort of 21 feet, 7½ inches beating out Kearney’s Logan Hachman by 1 inch for the final state spot. Watts then set a personal best in the 400 at 49.94, breaking the 50-second mark for the first time in his career in just his fourth open race at that distance this season.
Booker beat him in the 400 by about a second, setting up the later showdown Platte County’s team of Watts, senior TJ Guillory, senior Deandre Rollins and junior Matthew Phillips won.
Last year, Watts’ only state event ended up being the 4x400 after crashing out of the high jump at districts and placing fifth in the long jump at sectionals. His 2016 sectional long jump was nearly a foot better than this year’s mark but not quite enough for a state spot in a loaded field.
“I got my mind right,” Watts said. “I wanted to do the best I could for my team. This year, I showed out.”
Mac Leet, Platte County’s other high flying senior, earned his first state berths.
Hampered by a knee injury a year ago, Leet finally cleared 6-4 in the high jump again after setting his personal best at that height as a sophomore. He advanced to sectionals in the event each of the past two seasons but missed the cut each time.
Leet also advanced in the triple jump, having increased participation in the event late in the year. He placed third at 43-2 and came in just under his personal best set a week earlier.
“(High jump) is the one event I put the most work and most time into and to finally be able to say I’m a state qualifier in it is probably one of the greatest moments of my life so far,” said Leet, who also set a personal best but did not advance to state in the long jump (sixth, 21-1½).
The big days for Watts and Leet plus three state-bound relays helped Platte County amass 109 points to finish third behind Kearney and Grandview. The Pirates entered coming off a District 8 title a week earlier — the program’s first since 2011.
In addition to the 4x400, the 4x200 and 4x800 teams also set season- bests.
Platte County’s 4x800 team of sophomore Keegan Cordova, junior Devin Richardson and seniors Jared Maksudian and JD Crawford shaved about 12 seconds off their time at 8:08.92 and came in about 2 seconds back of Kearney for the top spot. The top open 800 runner for the Pirates, Cordova returned to the lineup this week after being unavailable last week due to out of town travels.
The 4x200 of Watts, Guillory, Phillips and senior Ahmaad Holt finished in 1:30.31, second to Center and closer to breaking the 1:30 mark for the first time this season.
Platte County senior Okwar Jale earned his long-awaited state debut in the 300 hurdles. Posting a career-best 40.71, he came in safely in fourth place with senior teammate Kevin Neal in sixth.
Both seniors competed in both hurdles race, and while Neal’s solid career came to an end, Jale fought through early disappointment in the 110s to earn a state spot in one of the state’s best sectional fields.
“This has been my dream since freshman year to go to state, and I finally have the chance. It means a lot,” said Jale, a sectional qualifier in both hurdle events a year ago, as well.
Platte County sophomore Jackson Letcher used patience to earn his second straight state berth in the 3,200.
Hovering in fifth and sixth for much of the eight-lap race, Letcher kicked late to move into fourth, beating Belton’s Kory Snyder to the line for the final qualifying spot by about 7½ seconds. Letcher ended up with a personal best of 10:04.64 — about 9 seconds better than his Sectional 4 time in 2016 as a freshman.
“I felt really relaxed the first mile; the second mile I had to speed up,” Letcher said. “Felt really good, though.”
Xavier Keith, another Platte County sophomore, set a season-best for a third straight week, improving on the marks set in the Suburban Conference Blue Division Championships and last week’s District 8 meet. He topped 52 feet for the first time in his career at 52-1, finishing third in an impressive field.
Platte County’s final state qualifiers in field events both came in the pole vault.
Despite battling sore shins, senior and school record holder Bryce Bearden finished third at 14-0 — 10 inches off his school record set a week earlier. Jacob Laures, an improving sophomore, made it two first-time pole vault qualifiers for the Pirates, finishing fourth at 13-6.
Laures previously cleared 13-9 this season with both of Platte County’s vaulters topping the Mike Wade’s previous school record of 13-6 set in 2011 during standout campaigns.