By Dan Woodlock
Times-Junction Sports Editor
Tuesday evening's chase for first place was so close, the top two teams were only separated by a Berry.Willard and Norwalk bunched side-by-side five times amongst the top-11 finishers, but the visiting Truckers topped the Flashes by one spot on three of the five occasions, including overall champion, Greg Berry, and seventh place, Nathan Berry, boosting NHS to a 28-29 win at Willard's home-opening Earlybird Invitational at the Willard Park.Greg Berry (17:28) narrowly slipped past Seth Vipperman (17:30) for first place, while Ethan Bores (17:46) gave the Truckers their second one-point advantage over the Flashes, claiming third ahead of Willard's Cory Barnett (17:58).Nicholas Berry (18:21) held off a tremendous turn-around race for Austin Strayer (18:43) to earn seventh place. Strayer's run marked a drop of two minutes and 41 seconds from his season-opening run at the OHSAA Invitational.The Flashes turned the tables in two spots, as Branden Carlson (18:02) finished ahead of Norwalk's Charles Nash (18:03) in the race for fifth, while Eric Hillis (18:47) squeezed past Norwalk's Owen Lotteman by three seconds (18:47 to 18:50) to nab tenth. But it wasn't quite enough to deny Norwalk on this night."I knew it would be close," said Willard Head Coach Dom Fratta. "Norwalk's always very good. Seth ran right with their number-one man throughout the race, but he got edged at the finish. But there is nothing to be disappointed about, because all of our kids ran well."The weather was perfect," he added. "It made for a great night to race and you saw the results. Branden really stepped up for us and Austin came down a lot. I think if you look all the way down the line, the league could continue to be as close as what we saw tonight."Also running for the Flashes were Garrett Risser in 17th place (19:11) and a stretch of eight of the next 11 runners, including Gerron Poston in 21st (19:26), Justin Gillmor in 22nd (19:27), Nate Cofer in 24th (20:05), Brandon Dye in 27th (20:28), Clay Gahring in 28th (20:36), Devin Brant in 29th (20:58), Tyler Gahring in 30th (21:05) and Prescott Lillo in 31st (21:06).Gavin Buurma (22:20) and Josh Haynes (22:29) took 36th and 40th, respectively, for WHS.Old Fort finished a distant third with 73 points, while Mansfield Senior totalled 112. Sandusky did not field a full team.Emily Rothhaar exploded late and not only passed Norwalk's Lauryn Maloney for the lead, but the Willard sophomore pulled away with the individual championship by 43 seconds in the girls' race.Rothhaar ran a 21:53, as the only girl to finish under 22 minutes on the night.Maloney (22:35) may have finished second, but Norwalk backed her by claiming five of the next six spots, to win the girls race, 20-38, over Willard.Old Fort also fielded a girls team, but finished well behind in third with 85 points."Emily ran a good, smart race," said Fratta. "She did a nice job of catching and passing Norwalk's top girl late. This was a good confidence builder for her."Lesley Burton also finished off a strong race with a tremendous burst at the finish to claim eighth place at 23:55. She was the front end of a Lady Flashes' pack that gobbled up four positions between 8 and 12.Kyrie McDevitt was 10th (24:13), followed by Felicia Rosvanis (24:20) in 11th and Taylor Chaffins (24:23) in 12th for WHS."Our pack was right together behind their pack," said Fratta. "The score doesn't really show how close it truly was. We have a lot of room to improve, but the attitudes were great tonight."Kelsey Poole (24:30) placed 13th, followed by Alyssa Strayer (25:38) in 17th, Britney Zeigler (25:56) in 18th, JoJo Maciel (26:13) in 19th and Yazmin Estrella (27:48) at 20th.Willard next competes at Saturday's Tiger Classic at Seneca East. The high school girls will race at 11:20 p.m., followed immediately by the boys in the meet schedule.