By the numbers

COCOLAMUS – If you ask Mark Ritzman who won Thursday’s Tri-Valley League boys track and field opener between East Juniata and Juniata, he might tell you to look for Toby Auker. Or Sean Heggs. Or any of the three other Tigers who scored one point – the third-place point – in their event.

“We told the guys (Wednesday) and we told them again (Thursday), ‘Thirds are going to make the difference,'” Ritzman said. “When Toby Auker pulled out that third in the 800 that was huge. We knew that might have been the edge.”

Auker’s claim on the final scoring slot in that event, and Heggs doing the same in the 200-meter dash that followed, were the swing points that pushed East Juniata to a 77-73 win in the boys meet.

The girls had a bit more of a big-score win in their meet, which ended 79-71 in the Tigers’ favor. The only sweep of the day came in the girls discus, with East Juniata taking all three places. Molly Scholl, the winner of that one and two other throws, was joined by distance runner Kasi Horning as the only multiple-event winners for the girls on either team.

“This was a great, very close, tight meet,” Ritzman said. “You look on both teams, and there was nobody that dogged it, nobody that backed down. Both teams went at it and went at it hard the whole time.”

Starting the year with a few big guns but a lot of newcomers, Juniata coach Kim Hart was pragmatic in her view of the outcome, while admitting her teams need to be motivated to work harder in the next meet.

“You have to be realistic,” she said. “I knew it was going to be tough, I knew we were going to be up against it – EJ’s very solid, both girls and boys. (They have) some very, very talented athletes.

“You have to be hopeful and push everyone to get the most they can. I think everyone gave the best they can. I have to be satisfied with that.”

The Tigers got their biggest points on the track in the distance events, with the boys picking up two wins there as well, albeit by different runners. Landon Sheaffer and Zane Lauver each had a win, with teammate Adam Barrick finishing second in both for 16 points. The next biggest score in one track event was the 800, where Sheaffer was the winner and Auker, dropped by a second by Juniata’s Luke Nanna, held on for the third spot.

The home team also got two spots in each of the short sprints, as Heggs and Spencer Reinford scored. But they were taken in both by Juniata’s MVP of the day, Neil Bodley, who was a four-event winner when two relays are included.

“Neil is a dominant athletic specimen, but he is also what you would consider to be the truest version of a leader and role model you could ask for on a team,” Hart said. “You have to be thankful to have his performance but I’m just thankful to have him as a person.”

David Brantley was a three-time winner for East Juniata, crossing first in both hurdle events and adding the long jump, outgunning Juniata’s Nick Gilbert in all three.

The only other multiple winner in the boys meet was Patrick Fitzgerald, who captured the shot put and discus for Juniata.

“I am so proud of Patrick. He is the most silent, quiet guy and for him to come up to me with some excitement on his face to announce to me something then you know in his heart he was literally thrilled,” Hart said. “That was an enormous accomplishment today.”

East Juniata’s girls won two of three relays, and counted on the winners for most of the points, but picked up more second-place points in the field.

“We have people who can run everything, and sometimes two and sometimes three. The depth is the thing we’ve missed so many times before,” Ritzman said.

He added that, especially in light of the cold temperatures Thursday, it helped that his team got a meet in already. It was the first of the season for the Indians.

“I think it helped us immensely,” he said. The events are different in practice than they are in a meet, and to be able to get down there that first legal day and run in a meet, I think is huge – just that little tiny edge you get. It was, I think, immeasurably valuable.”

Juniata (boys and girls: 0-1, 0-1) travels to Greenwood Thursday. East Juniata (boys: 5-1, 1-0; girls: 6-0, 6-0) head to Millersburg the same day.