WEST LAFAYETTE – Eddie Morales’s cross country season is only one week old, but he made those seven days pay off in a big way in Tuesday’s Harrison Sectional.
The Frankfort junior, who missed nearly the entire season due to grades, was reinstated to the team two weeks ago and ran in the final regular-season meet on Oct. 3. And on Tuesday, Morales became one of four area runners to place in the top-15 in the sectional and earn an automatic qualification to the regional, placing 13 th with a time of 17 minutes, 1 second.
Morales’s finish also helped the Hot Dogs place fourth and advance to the regional for the first time since 2008, the year they went to the state finals. Without Morales, Frankfort likely wouldn’t have accrued enough points to beat out Harrison and Rossville.
“I didn’t give up,” Morales said. “There was no giving up, not in cross country there isn’t. You run with your team, push them, and be a leader even though you’re not running. You’ve got to work for them and they’ve got to work for you, too.”
Even though he wasn’t competing in meets, Morales ran in every practice with team members and ran time trials before each meet so that he got his proper miles and training in.
“We knew he’d be probably pretty close to Cody (Bray) because of all the speed workouts. He was only a couple seconds behind Cody all season long during practices,” said Frankfort head coach Tim Galati. “Ideally, we’d like him to be racing the whole season but he kept a good head about it, didn’t have a bad attitude, worked hard and helped our team out.”
Frankfort placed fourth out of 12 teams with 121 points. Morales’s teammate, sophomore Cody Bray, finished 10 th (16:53) while a pair of Rossville runners – senior Austin Stewart (16:49) and sophomore Solomon Heffernan (16:53) – also earned advancement to the regional by placing eighth and 11 th , respectively.
All seven of Frankfort’s runners set personal records Tuesday. Frankfort junior Jesse Ricker was 24 th (17:38), sophomore Angel Conde 34 th (18:07) and junior Tyler Douglass 41 st (18:33) to round out the Hot Dogs’ top-five.
Galati said he had no reservations about plugging Morales back into the lineup despite the junior missing all but the final meet of the regular season.
“It’d be different if he wasn’t still showing up,” Galati said. “All the rules still applied to him. He did everything we asked of him and that’s all that mattered. He got his grades up and that was the main thing. He still had to earn his spot. That’s not an issue in my mind.”
Morales set a personal record in Tuesday’s sectional. He was running in the 17:40s heading into the sectional but was able to drop nearly 50 seconds off his time. His original goal was to run a 17:20.
“Cody helped a lot,” Morales said. “He would not let me go. If I slowed down he pushed me. He told me to keep going. He’s going to be a leader. It was just a good race.
“I’ve got really high expectations for this year and years to come.”
McCutcheon won the team title with 39 points. West Lafayette was second (53), Lafayette Jeff third (103), Frankfort fourth and Harrison fifth (126). The top five teams advance to the regional.
Rossville was sixth (143), Clinton Prairie ninth (242) and Clinton Central 11 th (275).
For Rossville, there was disappointment in not advancing as a team. The Hornets returned six of seven runners from last year’s semistate squad, but the breaks did not fall their way Tuesday. Junior Austin Meyers placed 28 th (17:50), freshman Devin Hodgen 46 th (18:52) and sophomore Ben Pettry 53 rd (19:12).
Stewart injured his foot about two weeks ago and his status for Tuesday’s sectional was in question heading in. Stewart said the injury came from running too many miles in training. He was running the extra miles in preparation for what he hopes is a semistate berth.
Stewart said there hasn’t been any pain in his foot since Saturday.
“I don’t think not running today was really an option,” Stewart said. “I was going to run no matter what. It hurt for five, six days and I just decided it’d be better to take conference off and not risk being hurt for here.”
Stewart changed his strategy for Tuesday’s run. He usually likes to come out fast in the first mile but came out about 20 seconds slower than normal.
“It’s just harder to fight back after that,” Stewart said. “You’ve got to work your way up instead of cruising. It’s more mental and you’ve got to work yourself into it.”
For Prairie, Blake Lehr was 33 rd (18:05), Drew Rodehan 43 rd (18:36), Thomas Hill 48 th (18:52), Austin Biery 56 th (19:15) and James Morris 70 th (20:16). For Central, Adam Miller was 38 th (18:18), Matt Rogers 47 th (18:52), Logan Crum 50 th (19:06), Cameron Campbell 73 rd (20:27) and Devin George 75 th (20:35).
Rossville senior Austin Stewart was the top area finisher in the Harrison Sectional, placing eighth with a time of 16 minutes, 49 seconds.
West Lafayette freshman Cooper Williams (16:18) was the individual winner.
Frankfort sophomore Cody Bray leads a pack of Clinton County runners at the beginning of Tuesday’s Harrison Sectional. Frankfort junior Eddie Morales is peering over Bray’s left shoulder, while they run alongside Clinton Central junior Adam Miller and Rossville sophomore Solomon Heffernan.