By JAMIE BAKER
COLUMBUS -- No one really knew how fast Liberty-Benton sophomore Seth Butler could go in the 800-meter run.
How about fast enough to win a state championship?
He hadn’t been pushed in the 800 all year and when push came to shove Butler proved he was the best in the state as he claimed the Division III boys 800 championship at the 101st OHSAA state track and field championships at Jesse Owens Stadium Saturday.
For the first time this season, someone actually ran with Butler nearly the entire race. The Liberty-Benton sophomore took the lead 300 meters into the race and never relinquished it while winning in a school record time of 1:52.54.
Cuyahoga Heights’ senior Garrett Brown stayed with Butler for much of the race. But Butler had plenty of kick left over the final 100-meters to win convincingly.
Butler’s victory was the eighth boys state track title in school history and the seventh for coach Jack Quisno.
“It was fun. I like the close races and the competition down here,“ said Butler, who finished fifth in the 800 as a freshman. “It feels great. I haven’t absorbed it all quite yet. But to be a sophomore and to stand on top of the podium, it just feels great.”
Liberty-Benton senior Kerry Cramner joined Butler as a two-time state meet medalist for the Eagles.
He started the day with a fifth place showing in the 100-meter dash in a time of 11.45 seconds. He also teamed with Butler, Dan Giangiordano and Nate Aydt for sixth in the 1,600 relay in a time of 3:26.12.
Chalk it up as another successful state meet for the Eagles. It was their eighth top 10 team finish as they were eighth overall with 19 points.
Two other area athletes just missed winning state titles.
One day after setting a new state record in the pole vault, Columbus Grove’s Heath Nickles came away with two more All-Ohio awards as he finished second in the 300 intermediate hurdles (38.86) and fourth in the 110 high hurdles (15.31).
Nickles hurdles performances coupled with his win in the pole vault Friday helped Columbus Grove finish sixth in the team standings with 23 points. Although he was the defending champion in the 300 hurdles, the Ohio State-bound standout wasn’t too upset with his performance.
“I’m not mad really. If it was anyone but Bryce today I’d be mad but he ran faster than me today. He got the job done,” Nickles said when talking about 300 hurdles state champion Bryce Bergman of New Bremen, who won the race in 38.49 seconds.
“I’d probably be a lot madder if I hadn’t gotten the state record yesterday.”
Senior Curtis Smithey capped his track career for Elmwood by earning a runner-up medal in the 400-meter dash. He crossed the finish line in 48.64 seconds. He trailed only Bluffton 4-time state champion John Guagenti who won the race in a record time of 47.46 seconds.
“That was the hardest I have ever ran the 400 and the outcome was amazing,” said Smithey, who will join Guagenti as a member of the University of Findlay track team next season. “I was fifth last year. First would be amazing, second place was my goal so I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Three other area individuals also earned state meet medals.
Cory-Rawson junior Lucas Horstman earned a spot on the awards stand for the second straight year in the 110 high hurdles. He was fifth last season and moved up a couple of spots this year to finish third in a time of 15.00 seconds.
Horstman doesn’t even consider himself to be one of the state’s top hurdlers.
“When you are here, you think of all the people that are better than you, you don’t think of yourself as one of the best,” Horstman said. “I’m going to work hard this summer. I want to consistently get into the low 14s all year next year, the 13s would be nice too. I want that gold medal.”
Hardin Northern senior Nathan Bame, who will also compete for the University of Findlay, earned his sixth career all-Ohio award and his third straight in the 100-meter dash with a sixth place showing in a time of 11.48 seconds.
Pandora-Gilboa sophomore Sam Spallinger, one of just six Division III athletes in the boys meet who competed in four events at state, capped his busy weekend by placing fifth in the 200 with a time of 22.83 seconds.