The Lakeside boys track team used its strength in the throwing events and speed in the short dashes to build an early lead Saturday afternoon in the Laker Invitational at Laker Stadium. The Dragons held then used distance ace Brandon Lopez and sprinter Otis Conel to hold off Maplewood, 95-91, for the team title.

Host Pymatuning Valley put on a solid show to finish third with 77 points, Edgewood was fourth with 60.5, Jefferson grabbed fifth with 60, and Harvey finished sixth with 58 as 17 area teams took part on a cold and raw day.

Edgewood had actually taken the lead after the completion of the first seven events of the day.

A second-place finish from James Lyle in the pole vault and a third from Zac Hutchinson put the Warriors in a good spot, but a lack of depth at the meet proved to be costly to them. Kameron Damhard and Davin Caruso scored for the Warriors in the high jump.

“The kids are doing really well so far today,” Edgewood coach Jim Sanchez said. “Unfortunately, we don't have everybody here. If we can do well in the last few events of the day, things could work out well for us.”

With the foursome for Lakeside in the 800-meter relay taking the top spot in its race, Lakeside was able to stay in solid ground.

Chase Knight, Conel, Riley Dell, and Chad McAfee took first place over Maplewood, and then the returns from the field events began to come in. And that's when things really picked up for the Dragons.

“The throws have really been a strength for our team over the last couple of weeks,” Lakeside coach Tony DeCesare said. “Our

throwers really put us in a good spot today as well. Then later in the meet, we have our big distance runner, Brandon Lopez, and good sprinters to take some points for us, too.”

Thrower Bryce McMullen won the shot put with a toss of 44-9, and finished second in the discus. Teammate Josh Wells took second in the shot with a toss of 43-9, and Reggie McHenry took third in the discus, providing important early points to set the stage for the big finish featuring Lopez and Conel.

Double-winner Lopez, who in winning the 3,200-meter run for Lakeside also claimed the first awarding of the Dan Dunlap Award, named in honor of the late Pymatuning Valley distance runner who forged a superb running career during his high school days, knew what he had to do.

“In the 3,200, I waited a little bit to see what would happen,” the junior said. “I wasn't really too worried about things because I held my position, then, because I think I have enough of a kick at the end of the races that a lot of other guys may not have, I was able to break out to win.”

His wins in both the 1600 and 3200 brought big points to the Lakeside team totals.

No points may have been more important, though, than the points brought in with a second place finish in the 100-meter dash final, and a third-place finish in the 200-meter dash from Conel.

“I just try to win my races,” he said. “I try to do what I can for my team. I've been working on getting better starts lately. I've started running differently, and it has helped me a lot.”

In the 100, Conel took second place and teammate Chase Knight finished in seventh to give Lakeside solid points.

Conel's second place came in the most heatedly contested race of the day.

Ari Sobel of Beachwood, Conel, Tuan Hoang of Maplewood, and Quintin Ratliff of Pymatuning Valley arrived at the finish line in a near dead-heat photo finish. After several minutes reviewing the finish by officials using a replay system, it was declared that Sobel won in 11.660, Conel hit 11.663, Hoang came in at 11.674, and Ratliff finished in 11.679.

That race picked up the tempo heading into the last events, and Lopez came through with a big second leg in the 1,600-meter relay Conel capped things off after Maplewood had claimed a brief lead in the team scoring behind wins in the 1,600-meter relay to go with a win by Hoang in the 400-meter dash and a win by Wyatt Harman in the 800-meter run.

Mike Dahmen of Maplewood applied a lot of pressure on Lopez early in the two long runs, setting up fantastic finishes from the Dragon junior, as expected.

“I had a good idea,” DeCesare said before those races took place, “on what my distance runners could do, and in the sprints that are left. Brandon is always tough when we need it.”

His feelings were prophetic.

Dahmen set fast paces in both long runs, but faded to third in the 3200 and fourth in the 1600.

Solomon Yoder of Maplewood helped his team with a win in the 300 meter high hurdles and Stephen Pop took the discus title.

Ratliff of PV won the 200 meter dash to lead the Lakers to their third place finish, and Jefferson had pole vault winner Jacob Hamilton leading the way for the Falcons to their fifth place spot.

Harvey was sixth with its 58 points, Beachwood took seventh with 50, Wickliffe had 42.5, Conneaut was ninth with 37, Newton Falls had 35, Chanel totalled 22, Perry was there with 10, Mathews garnered 7, Bristol won 6, LaBrae had 5, Ledgemont had 4, and Grand Valley scored one as well.

Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.

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