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Baldonado heads star-studded cast at Oregon

Bureau Valley’s Kane Eastwood pushes ahead in Saturday’s Oregon Open. The race, won by Hall’s Al Baldonado, featured three state qualifiers and a nationally ranked freshman.
Bureau Valley’s Kane Eastwood pushes ahead in Saturday’s Oregon Open. The race, won by Hall’s Al Baldonado, featured three state qualifiers and a nationally ranked freshman.

OREGON – It was a star-studded cast at the top of the leader board for the boys’ finish in the Oregon Cross Country Open. State-qualifiers Nick Monkemeyer of Rockford Christian, T.J. Pitcock of Byron and Alex Pettis finished second through fourth. In fifth was national age-group ranked freshman, Chris Ahlers of Newman.

The winner ... Al Baldonado of Spring Valley Hall.

“It feels great to win my first big meet,” said Baldonado, whose previous best finish at an invite-type meet was eighth place.

Besides besting three 2012 state qualifiers, the win was also gratifying for Baldonado because it happened at Oregon Park West, the site of last year’s sectional, where he just missed out on qualifying by one second.

“It was basically the four of us in a pack from the start,” Baldonado said. “It felt like an easy pace the first half of the race. Then, in the second part, it picked up.”

Pitcock led most of the way. With 150 meters remaining, Baldonado made his move and out-kicked Pitcock and Monkemeyer to win 16:30 to 16:39 on the three-mile loop, which will also serve as site of the 2013 sectional.

“I felt something at the end. I’m very satisfied with my kick,” Baldonado said.

Baldonado logged a lot of miles this summer but didn’t get much speed work in because of shin splints. That didn’t affect him as he easily sped to victory in somewhat warm conditions.

It is likely his superior conditioning paid dividends for him, as the other runners appeared to struggle at the finish.

“My goal this year is to make it to state and run a sub 15:20,” Baldonado said.

Kane Eastwood led Bureau Valley with a time of 18:32, good for 25th out of 106 runners. Colten Peterson (19:04) and Andrew Smith (19:06) chipped with 34th and 35th place for BV.

“On a hot day like this, it’s rough,” BV coach Dale Donner said. “It’s a tough field with Winnebago, Newman and Rockford Christian. It’s good experience for the sectional.”

Donner sat out Regan Weidner for the girls’ portion of the meet, due to shin splints.

Byron’s Kelsey Hildreth won with a time of 18:50, more than a minute ahead of the next finisher. No doubt, Weidner’s absence prevented Hildreth from being pushed.

The top area finisher was Zoe Mead of Princeton. Mead ran 21:44, to place 12th.

“For this early in the season, I just tried to work it and see where I can go from here,” Mead said. “I felt out of my comfort zone but liked the challenge of the hills.”

Mead, who was the 800-meter, state-placer in the IHSA 2A meet, is still seeking her first berth downstate in cross country.

“She just missed as a freshman and was hindered by illness as a sophomore. Last year, she was 34th place or something like that at the sectional,” Princeton coach Pat Hodges said. “Track is more of her favorite sport.”

No team scores were kept.

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