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Submitted / The Observer

ot have the biggest team at the AHSAA Class 4A Track and Field Championshipsin Gulf Shores last week but that did not stop the Panthers from going in with high expectations. The Panthers had seven podium finishes, including two individual wins by DJ Patrick, on their way to finishing second as a team.

“We were definitely shooting for first place,” ECHS coach Joseph Snelick said. “We knew we had a good shot at it but that top-three finish didn’t get real until Saturday.”

Only nine athletes represented Elmore County but the number of high finishes helped the Panthers earn enough points to push into the top two. Patrick, who was participating in his final high school athletic event, said the team was gunning for the championship trophy but that did not take away from the significance of winning the runner-up trophy.

“It meant a lot to me and the team,” Patrick said. “We put in a lot of hard work this season. To go that far with just nine guys, that means a lot to us.”

Patrick got things started with a third-place finish in the long jump finals. After some trouble in his opening jumps, Patrick posted a jump of 23-2 which was 6.5 inches short of first place but good enough for his first podium appearance of the weekend.

In the triple jump finals, Patrick fell short of his personal best but still defeated the closest competition by 5.5 inches for his first win. He finished with a distance of 46-0.5.

Patrick put the rest of the state on notice during the 400 where he fell less than a quarter of a second from the state record. He finished with a time of 48.44 in the finals, finishing in first place by 1.56 seconds.

“I was just thinking about going for the record,” Patrick said. “This was my last high school race so I wanted to go for the record.”

The Panthers teamed up with Patrick in the 4x400 to earn another first-place medal. The relay team, consisting of Patrick, De’Angelo Splunge, Zefeniah Edwards and Reece Baker, fell just over a second from the state record with a time of 3:25.32, defeating the second-place team by more than six seconds.

“It feels a lot better when you finish as a team,” Patrick said. “It’s a great experience to come together and win with everyone else.”

Elmore County finished in second place in the 4x8 with a time of 8:21.83. The 4x1 did not reach the podium, finishing 11th out of 23 teams with a time of 45.58.

Baker had two top-10 finishes as an individual and was the only freshman to qualify for either event at state. His time of 23.05 was good enough for sixth place in the 200 while he finished in ninth place in the 400 with a time of 52.70.

Edwards finished just behind Baker in the 400, grabbing 10th place with a time of 52.98. Edwards had his highest individual finish of the day in the 800, clocking in at 1:59.98 to take second place.

“Every event we had we were just trying to do our best,” Patrick said. “We wanted to keep pushing to set our own personal bests.”

Kwan Bickley had the only other podium finish of the day. He posted a 6-2 in the high jump finals to finish in third place, finishing one slot short of first place.

“Track is usually more about the individual awards than the team points,” Snelick said. “But this definitely helped bring the team together. It was awesome for the program and hopefully for the school.”