SPORTS: Port Townsend’s Piatt holds on for Salt Creek boys crown

JOYCE — Bereket Piatt is number two no more.

The Port Townsend junior proved he’ll be a force to be reckoned with this cross country season in winning the 21-school Salt Creek Invitational on Saturday.

Piatt overtook Bellevue’s Joel Ambo in the last mile, then held him off during a furious downhill charge in the last quarter mile, to win the boys varsity three-mile race in a time of 15 minutes, 17 seconds.

He crossed the line only five yards in front of a straining Ambo, who finished a second later in 15:18.

Kingston’s Ruby Roberts made a similar charge in the final lap to win the girls race, passing Shelton’s Sarah Johnson during the last half mile for her third straight Salt Creek title.

Yet it was the close finish in the boys event that brought the most excitement to the 32nd edition of the Invite.

“After we went through the tunnel [near the end] I kept looking back and he was right behind me,” Piatt said. “I thought he was going to get me. I just gave it what I got.”

That turned out to be just enough for Piatt, who scored a rare victory after spending the last two year’s behind teammate Quinton Decker.

The duo went 1-2 in just about every race they competed in last year, including the Olympic League and Class 1A state meets.

This time, however, Piatt didn’t have to settle for second.

Not bad for a runner who spent the last two days of practice on a stationary bike due to a minor knee injury sustained earlier in the week.

“When I was doing my sprints at the beginning I still could feel it,” Piatt said. “I thought the same thing was going to happen once I started the race, but it felt fine.

“They were pushing the pace pretty fast, but I thought I could keep up with it, and that’s what I did.”

Added Piatt, “Once we got to the trails [on the final lap]. I passed the second place guy to see how close I could get. [Then] I just kept up with [Ambo], and on the stairs he just gave up. I just took off from there.”

Teammate Hab Rubio finished 24 seconds behind Piatt, taking sixth in 15:41 to show that Port Townsend still has a pair of lead runners despite Decker’s departure for the University of Montana. The two top 10 finishes helped vault the Redskins to an eighth-place finish with 250 points in the team standings, one spot behind Sequim.

Bellevue took home the boys team crown with 55 points and six runners in the top 20.

“[Piatt] has really taken on a leadership role this year,” Port Townsend coach Jeni Little said. “He’s a quiet young man, but he’s stepped up and taken on a leadership role. . . he and Hab and our only senior, Mitch Hubbard. [And] Hab has been right in there with Bereket all preseason.”

The Wolves took seventh with 233 points on the strength of three top-50 times from Adrian Clifford (34th in 16:44), Colby Robb (35th in 16:46) and Alex Jenkins (49th in 17:11). They were just behind district competitor Interlake, which was sixth with 207 points.

“We really worked hard this week, and I didn’t expect everybody to be quite on top of their game,” Sequim coach Harold Huff said. “We had a real heavy-loaded training [this week]. So overall I’m really happy with the way the kids ran, especially the boys varsity. It was really close [with Interlake].”

North Kitsap was the top Olympic League finisher, taking second with 77 points.

Port Angeles didn’t fare quite as well without its lead runner, John Christian. The senior had to sit out the race due to a recurring tendinitis injury. Cameron O’Neil (41st in 17:01) and David Branham (50th in 17:12) both placed in the top 50 as the Riders finished 16th (424 points).

Girls race

The Port Angeles girls looked sharper by comparison.

Even without new addition, and ’08 1A state third-place finisher, Chanda Romney, the Riders put together an eighth-place finish. Olympic League rival North Kitsap won the girls team crown with 53 points and three top ten finishes.

Alison Maxwell’s 14th-place time of 19:29, tops among Peninsula runners, led the way for the Riders, while Wubi Acheson took 26th in 20:34 as the Riders’ other two 50 finisher.

Of course, it was Roberts who once again was the story at Salt Creek after winning the event for the third year in a row.

Even without rival Allison Cutting of Sequim present — the senior was on a recruiting trip to Boston College — Roberts was tested by Shelton’s Johnson. The two went back and forth with the lead until the final downhill stretch when Roberts turned on the jets and beat out Johnson by seven seconds.

“That felt really hard,” said Roberts, who dropped to her knees after the race. “Our whole girls team was sick . . . so the whole week everybody has been out and now we’re all recovering. I definitely feel the effects of that.”

Port Townsend’s young squad ended up taking 15th in the race without any top 50 finishers. Grace Piatt took 71st and Brittany Grant 72nd as the Redskins’ top finishers.

Sequim, minus Cutting and No. 2 runner Audrey Lichten, did not field a varsity team.

Paul Turner claimed the men’s open race in 16:50.48, while Lori Buratto won the women’s open race in 19:33.77.

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