IT WAS a final lap that Cale Pirtle will remember for the rest of his life.
The East Jackson senior standout covered the final 400 meters of the oh-so-close Class AA 3,200 finals in just 63 seconds Friday to run down Westminster’s Jordan Flowers and win in a photo finish.
Pirtle wasn’t afraid to leave everything on the track.
“I was just thinking it’s my last lap of track,” Pirtle said. “I knew that if I died at the end, I would at least die happy.”
Pirtle’s time of 9:45.99 beat Flowers by just two hundredths of a second and surpassed his own personal-best by 23 seconds.
“He ran an incredible race,” said first-year East Jackson track coach Tomy Sitton. “I have really enjoyed coaching him. He’s done everything I’ve asked and then some. He’s had a good attitude. I think he didn’t want to go out without having won a state championship.”
This was only Pirtle’s first appearance at state, but he clearly saved his very best for this moment.
Pirtle ran in fourth for most of the race but started making his move about three-fourths the way through.
“That was my strategy — just latch on to somebody and then follow them and hope I could out-kick them,” Pirtle said. “Because I’m more of an 800 (meter) runner than any of the other guys I raced with.”
That set up a thrilling final 100 meters with Pirtle charging hard down the stretch and Flowers trying to hold Pirtle off.
Neither runner knew immediately who had won after they crossed the finish line. In fact, Pirtle said he didn’t know until about five minutes after the race concluded that he was Class AA’s newest state champion.
“I kind of didn’t want to know because then if I found out that I was in second, I would have been really disappointed,” Pirtle said.
Pirtle may have even surprised himself with the victory.
Coming in, Pirtle held out hope that he could win the 3,200 but said a second through fifth-place finish was the most likely scenario. Pirtle was also coming off what he considered a disappointing third-place finish in the 1,600 meters the night before. He didn’t feel 100 percent either, battling allergy problems all week and coughing problems since Thursday.
So it could have been easy for Pirtle to settle for second in those frantic final 100 meters, but he said something kept pushing him on.
“I was so tired, but I just wanted to win more,” he said. “I went for it.”
Sitton pointed to Pirtle’s final kick.
“It was really amazing when he came out of the curve with 100 meters left,” he said. “He still had another gear, and he just kept going to the line and that made the difference.”
For Pirtle — who will run collegiately at Truett-McConnell next year — it was a grand exit from high school track.
He leaves East Jackson holding three school records (in the 800 meters, 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters) and with the distinction of being the Eagles’ second state champion.
It was a moment that he was still trying to absorb after the race was over Friday.
“I don’t think I’ve had enough time to let it sink in yet,” Pirtle said.
Simply put, Pirtle ran a great race, Sitton said.
“I’m proud of him, and I’m happy for him,” he said.