WALKER – Live Oak’s sixth straight team championship may have been the big news coming out of Thursday’s Livingston Parish Cross Country Meet, but Denham Springs High got a boost from a somewhat unexpected source to make the team standings tight.
Denham Springs’ Michael Rodriquez, a member of the DSHS basketball team in his first year of cross country, captured the individual title in 16:00.31.
“Mike’s gotten better and better,” DSHS coach Andy McLean said, noting he talked with Denham Springs basketball coach Kevin Caballero, who pointed him to Rodriguez and Andrew Duckworth. “He started the season 18:30s, but he wasn’t an 18:30 guy. You could tell he was still figuring out how to race. He was still figuring out how to run a cross country race. He’d never run three miles at a time. The last couple of times he’s finished, I’ve seen him smiling and just kind of OK and content. Brennan (Amato) and other guys, their hands are on their knees and laid out.”
McLean’s plan heading into the race was to take advantage of Rodriquez’s extra energy, and it paid off.
“I told Mike before the race … you’re going out with Brennan today,” McLean said. “Brennan’s going to run his pace because they’re going to go out fast, and I don’t necessarily start from the finish being in the lead, but you don’t lose contact because I’ve done workouts with him when I can, and he’s got such speed and turnover. I told him ‘when you get to that 800-meter mark out, I want you to start letting loose.’ He’s over here at 600 meters, and I said, ‘hey, let’s open it up, let’s go.’ He’s like, ‘I go straight?’ He’s just so casual the whole time, and I’m like, ‘come on! Let’s get it!’ He’s capable of being a sub-16 guy. He ran 16 flat and had just this massive kick at the end. I’m pumped about him, and I’m pumped about him for track season. He’s going to have a great basketball season, I think, with Coach Cab, so he’s just a really good athlete.”
Rodriguez said the plan for the race worked – to a point.
“I was supposed to stick with Brennan for most of the race, and then at the two-mile point, I knew I had more left, so I kind of just pushed it,” he said. “It feels great.”
Amato, the 2019 champion, was second in 16:07.96.
“I was trying to do like last year what I did with Jack,” Amato said. “I was trying to stay behind the top two runners … I just tried to stay third most of the time, but it ended up being all scrambled up, so I went with the flow of the race and just kept going faster and faster.”
Meanwhile, Live Oak’s Jack Earle finished third (16:15.11), leading a pack of Eagle runners who helped the school to its six-peat.
“Coming into the race, running minimal races this year, I had a goal,” Earle said. “I wanted to stick behind Brennan and whoever else was in front and just try to see if I could kick it out at the end there. We have three guys who finished in the top three, all three PR’d, so when you have that type of competition it just really pushes you to get better.”
Earle’s Live Oak teammates Devin McLendon (fifth, 16:41.50), Peyton Parker (sixth, 16:43.79), Thomas Sigman (eighth, 17:03.75), John Dyar (ninth, 17:05.41), Benjamin Cutbirth (11th, 17:38.20), Caleb Browning (16th, 18:18.91) and Addison Blackwell (20th, 18:53.89) turned in top-20 finishes.
“Hats off to (Denham Springs’) one and two,” Live Oak coach Travis Johnson said after his team edged DSHS 31-39 for the championship. “They’re phenomenal runners, but we’ll take the team win, I guess, rather than the individuals. It was a great race for us and Denham.”
Following Amato in the Denham Springs contingent were Joseph Aycock (7th, 16:52.76), Noah Hood (12th, 17:58.24), Preston Saxon (17th, 18:42.61), Aidan Calhoun (18th, 18:51.05) and Duckworth (19th, 18:51.29).
“I think if our guys have a better race today, I think we’re right there in it to beat them out, but that’s the way it goes,” McLean said. “We’ve got a big gap between our top couple of guys, and we’ve got to close it. We’ve got to get that four and five and that six and seven, and we need to bring up that whole gap, because that’s something Live Oak’s done really good this year. They haven’t necessarily had big frontrunners at the bigger meets, but they’ve been able to stay together as a group and bring each other together.”
Walker, which finished third with 56 points, was paced by a fourth-place finish from Jacob Kennedy (16:36.20), while Tyler Beatty was 10th (17:37.99), Joshua Kennedy 13th, (18:03.52), Justin Green 14th (18:05.36) and Matthew Crawford 15th (18:12.65).
“I think my boys team just went out there, they worked their tail off today,” Walker coach Will Silk said. “It wasn’t the result we wanted, had two or three guys that had off days today, but that happens at meets. I’d rather have them have an off day today than at the regional meet in two weeks when it really matters. We’re looking forward to regionals and bouncing back and competing well.”