CHARLESTON, Ill. • Alton Marquette hurdler John Piper took advantage Thursday afternoon of a stumbling competitor to earn a spot in the final of the Class 1A 100-meter hurdles of the state track meet at O'Brien Stadium.
Running in the fourth heat of the preliminaries in a driving rain and trailing leader Ser Whitaker of Illini West coming to the ninth hurdle, Piper saw Whitaker hit a hurdle, and he used that mistake to earn a trip to the medal round.
"I was following him close. I thought 'I've got to keep running hard and something might happen,'" Piper said. "He hit a hurdle and stumbled, and that was my chance. I just capitalized on it. This is the best race I've run all year. I got through all 10 (hurdles) clean, and it paid off for me."
Whitaker's mistake was costly because he missed the final field. Piper stopped the timer in 14.92 seconds, putting him in lane 4 for the final. Craig Johns of Litchfield was the ninth and final qualifier at 15.30.
Competing in the finals has been a goal for Piper. Last season as a freshman, his season ended in the preliminaries.
"That was my goal this week," he said. "Last year, I got the experience thing out of the way, so I thought I wanted to come up here and do something this time. When I'm running, I always run hard because I know that anything can happen at any time. That was my chance to come in and get first. I'm really excited."
It was not an ideal day to run. The preliminaries were conducted in a steady rain and drizzle, with windy conditions and temperatures in the low 50s. The high jump, triple jump, long jump and pole vault took place in Lantz Fieldhouse.
"The weather was just tough," Piper said. "Seeing the hurdles, the rain is in your eyes, and it's kind of hard to see. But I just went through it."
Wesclin sprinter Nate Schreiber qualified for the finals in the 100 and 200. He will start in lane 2 in the 100 and lane 8 in the 200. He finished second in both heats, with times of 11.06 and 22.40.
"It's obviously a little slow," Schreiber said of his 200 time. "Maybe it's just the weather. But everyone is running in the state stuff. I've got to come out Saturday ready to run. I'm just going to go for gold in both races. Nothing less."
Lebanon senior Andrew Ellison is a near lock for the state title in the discus after an opening toss of 186 feet, 7 inches. He scratched on his last two throws. Ellison is 27 feet, 6 inches in front of second-place competitor Caleb Fricke of Petersburg PORTA.
"I just took my time and focused," he said. "I didn't want to come out here and push it too hard because I knew the ring was going to be really slippery. I took it easy and tried to stay in the ring. That was a load off my back. I got a good one off."
With the state championship almost secured, Ellison now has his sights set on his record of 194-8 he set at the St. Clair County Meet on April 26. The 1A state meet record of 193-2 was set last season by Alex Thompson of Winnebago.
"That record is in my eyes now," he said.
Other locals who qualified for the finals include Matt McDonald of Dupo (high jump and triple jump), Travis Newman of Nashville (shot put), Cameron Walter of Greenville (100 and 200) and Gannon Mamell of Nashville (400). Nashville's 1,600 relay team also will race Saturday.