KOKOMO – It’s safe to say that Matt Thacker ran the gamut of his emotions Thursday night.
The Warsaw boys track coach, in the end, had to be happy though to have his gutsy team called regional champions.
The No. 7 Tigers, one year after losing the regional title to Penn by a single point, staved off the No. 9 Kingsmen Thursday night 76-73 to win the Kokomo Regional championship.
The title, which came on a cold and windy night at Walter Cross Field, is the second in the last three years for the Tigers.
Thacker, as he waited for the official announcement of the final team standings, was emotional talking about his team.
“It says a lot about our kids to be in this position,” said Thacker before the final scores were read. “I’m very proud where we’re at. These kids, all of them, have done so much for the program.
“It hurts that it’s not going to last forever. It hit me last Saturday when I wrote the notes for our seniors. This is just a special group that I’ll never forget.”
Moments later it was official that the Tigers had topped the Kingsmen by three points.
Warsaw led 70-65 going into the final event of the night, the 4 X 400. Penn placed second for eight points, while the Tigers captured third for six points to hold on for the championship.
“It’s something to be proud of,” said Thacker of the regional title. “It’s a great feeling. It’s humbling. But, it’s also bittersweet.”
The bittersweet part came due to the fact that Thacker saw his outstanding 4 X 100 relay team disqualified after dropping the baton on the first exchange. The team of seniors Wyatt Jones and Nate Kolbe and juniors Gabe Furnivall and Tristan McClone were the second seed after claiming the sectional title last week.
“It’s a big meet and you know that some things will go well and some things will go bad,” Thacker said. “Unfortunately, mistakes happen. The bottom line is that happened in our 4 X 100 relay. It’s the only time it’s happened all year. It’s frustrating.”
The Tigers were led again by the sensational senior pair of Jake Poyner and Robert Murphy. The duo, as they have been all season long, were outstanding.
The distance stars accounted for exactly half, 38, of their team’s points.
“Jake and Robert just stepped up,” noted Thacker.
Poyner, who will run at Wake Forest, claimed a pair of regional titles in impressive fashion. He dominated the 1,600 in a winning effort of 4:18.56 and then returned to win the 3,200 in a time of 9:26.40.
Murphy ran away from the field in the 800 to win in 1:55.46, just off his state best seed time of 1:55.27. The Vincennes University recruit was second in the 1,600 behind Poyner in a time of 4:22.29.
“My goal was to come here and win,” said Poyner. “That changes my mood for next week. I’m excited. We wanted to sit for one lap and then go. Robert was right with me and that helps keep me focused.”
Murphy admitted he didn’t feel fast in the 800 even though he won the race by more than two and a half seconds.
“I felt my hamstrings tighten up and felt like I was going so slow,” said Murphy. “I just kept at it, but thought they were going to catch me.
“I wasn’t feeling it before the race. I have a blister on my heel. I practiced with no socks and that was a bad idea. But, the blister didn’t bother me. I felt great at the finish.”
Seth Fouts claimed a regional championship in the shot put for Warsaw, earning the Tigers a huge 10 points. The junior, who was the top seed, had a top throw of 55-03.75, three feet ahead of his nearest counterpart.
Taylor Cone also earned a State Finals berth with a third-place finish in the 110 hurdles. The senior clocked in at 15.16. Cone just missed qualifying for State in the 300 hurdles as he placed fourth in a time of 41.93.
The 4 X 400 relay team, which nailed down the team championship in the final race of the night, is on to State. The quartet of Jones, Furnivall, Nate Kolbe and junior Ryan Goon placed third in a time of 3:25.37 after setting a sectional record last week in 3:20.85.
Warsaw also got key points from junior Stephen Kolbe (fourth in the high jump), senior Wyatt Jones (sixth in the 100), senior Nate Kolbe (seventh in the 200) and junior Chad Goon (eighth in the 400).
Stephen Kolbe cleared 6-2 in the high jump. He was the defending regional champion after going 6-7 at Kokomo last year and then tying for sixth place at the State Finals with a leap of 6-4.
Thacker singled out Nate Kolbe for his two points in the 200. Kolbe was involved with the bad exchange with Jones in the 4 X 100 relay race.
“Those were big points by Nate,” said Thacker. “He was not expected to score points there and he still stepped up and came through for us.”
The regional title for the Tigers was the fourth in program history. Warsaw also won the championship in 1980, 1984 and 2011 (edging out Kokomo 58-57).
The top three finishers in each event Thursday night advance to the State Finals set for May 31 at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Elkhart Memorial, led by its champion 4 X 100 and 4 X 400 relay teams and two-time regional runner-up Devontea Millsaps (100 and 200), was third with 41 points. South Bend Adams was fourth with 36 points with host Kokomo fifth with 32.
The Crimson Chargers of coach Adam Homo won the 4 X 100 with the team of seniors Millsaps, McNeal Stewart and Caleb Platz and freshman David Doyle in a top time of 43.53. The Memorial quartet of Millsaps, Stewart and juniors Blake Kramer and Jared Peek won the 4 X 400 relay title in a time of 3:24.43.
Other regional champions were Penn senior Tommy Grant in the 100 (10.83), South Bend Adams junior Shaq Vann in the 200 (22.25), South Bend Riley junior Thomas Capers in the 400 (49.63), Penn junior Tim Deal in the 300 hurdles (39.34) and South Bend Clay senior Jordan Hunt in the 110 hurdles (14.87).
The Kingsmen took a hit Thursday night when Grant came up lame with a leg injury for the second straight week. The Penn star, who had won the 100 and 200 regional titles in 2012, had to be scratched from the 200 at the sectional last week due to the injury. He won the 100 Thursday night, grimacing in pain as he limped off the track following the race. He was then pulled from Penn’s 4 X 100 relay team, which won a state title in 2012. The Kingsmen ended up placing second to Memorial in that race.
The Goshen 4 X 800 relay team of seniors Ricardo Castillo, Alfonso Torres and Reid Zimmerman and sophomore Abraham Medellin captured a regional title in a photo finish at 8:11.35.
Wawasee sophomore JJ Gilmer won the high jump (6-6), Kokomo senior Waylon Coulter won the pole vault (13-06), Eastern senior Grant Cole took the long jump (23-09) and Logansport junior Alex Emmerd claimed the discus (159-05).