By Butch Harmon
Special to Second Half
COMSTOCK PARK – The Sanford Meridian baseball team was down a man Saturday as it worked its way to a District title.
Senior Jacob Wenzlick was busy on the other side of the state, helping the Sanford-Meridian boys track and field team win the championship at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals.
Wenzlick was a member of three winning relay teams for the victorious Mustangs. He also is a member of the Mustangs baseball team and had a pair of hits in the District opener earlier in the week.
But the lure of a lofty finish at the Track and Field Finals had him on the track Saturday afternoon.
“This was just nuts,” Wenzlick said. “We didn't even win our conference or our Regional. To win a state championship is incredible.”
That Sanford-Meridian was in a position to win was pretty incredible.
Wenzlick was not the only assist the Mustangs’ track team received from the baseball team. Senior Dan Johnson, who played baseball last season, broke his wrist before the season this spring. Unable to play baseball, he decided to come out for the track team.
On Saturday, Johnson found himself running a leg on the 1,600 relay team that not only won but set a meet record in the process.
“This is my first year of running track, and it was awesome,” Johnson said.
The track team received an even bigger assist from the Sanford-Meridian basketball team. Seniors Kevin Scheibert and Jacob Ham are first-year runners and members of the basketball team. They were busy in previous springs playing travel basketball together to prepare for the next season.
But with their high school basketball careers finished, the duo was talked into coming out for the track team by Sanford-Meridian coach Dave Pettyplace.
Scheibert and Wenzlick stepped in to open vacancies on the 400, 800 and 1,600 relay teams and helped all three squads win championships Saturday.
“We had three guys who were in their first year running track,” Pettyplace said. “They were part of three relay teams that took first place and that was a big key.”
Another big key was a fifth-place performance from Ham in the 200-meter run. Seeded eighth, Ham told a teammate he was going to take it easy in the 200 to save himself for the 1,600 relay at the end. His teammate let him know that those points in the 200 would be key for the team, and Ham changed his game plan.
“Those points were pretty important,” Ham said. “I had the mile relay after that and I wasn’t going to try very hard, but when I was told we needed those points, I ran as hard as I could.”
A feeling he and Scheibert would not have enjoyed had it not been for his coaches’ recruiting efforts.
“Coach has always talked to me about coming out for track,” Ham said.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Scheibert said. “This was the first year for the two of us. We just came out for the fun of it never realizing we would get in this position.”
For New Haven junior Josh Harris, the Finals were a very special occasion. Not only did Harris win the 110 hurdles in a personal-best time of 14.96, but he also celebrated his 17th birthday.
“This has been a goal of mine since my freshman year,” Harris said. “I also made a promise to my deceased coach, coach Rob who coached me as a freshman, that I would do this for him. Doing this on my birthday just adds the icing on the cake.”
Harris just missed qualifying as a freshman and last season he did not run track as he played travel basketball instead.
“Once the race began I felt very loose and confident, “Harris said. “I had no nervousness at all.”
Union City junior Aaron Watson also missed out on the Finals last year. Watson suffered a torn hamstring early last season and was never at full strength.
Healthy this year, Watson not only made it but won the 100 dash in a personal-best time of 10.9.
“As a freshman I made it to state but I was knocked out in the prelims,” Watson said. “Last year in the first meet of the season I tore my hamstring. At the beginning of this season my goal was just to qualify for state. As the season went on I started setting my goals higher and higher.
“I came out of the blocks real good. The leaders kind of bunched up in the middle of the race, but then I pulled away at the end. I started strong and finished strong today.”
Thanks to some help from his teammate, Niles Brandywine senior Andrew Duckett came away with a championship in the 300 hurdles. Duckett turned in a winning time of 39.1 while his teammate, senior Nathan Anders, placed third.
“Finishing in the top three together is a big deal for us,” Duckett said. “It is so helpful having a teammate like Nathan. He pushes me in practice every day. Most teams don’t have that luxury.”
Almont sophomore Jacob Battani picked a good time to make a big improvement. Battani won the pole vault with a vault of 13-9, a nine-inch improvement over his previous personal record.
“I had a better invert today, and that was something I was working on all week in practice,” Battani said. “I’m really excited and happy. I was just hoping to make it to state this year. I was not expecting to finish first.”
Hopkins junior high jumper Quincy Collings went out for track for the first time last season. One year later he not only made it to the Finals but he won the high jump with a leap of 6-9, three inches better than his previous record.
“I’ve been working on my technique a lot lately,” Collings said. “I was told to back up when the height goes up to get over the bar, and I’m happy with the result. My goal was to clear 6-8 and finish in the top three.”
PHOTO: Sanford Meridian's Jacob Wenzlick carries the baton for one of his team's relays. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)