The finish between Arroyo Grande High’s Angela Gemignani and teammate Talley Hill couldn’t have been much closer at the PAC 7 Finals on Thursday.
Gemignani and Hill were side by side coming down the stretch, pushing for every last ounce of energy they could muster.
When they crossed the line, fans looking on had trouble determining the winner, and so did the two runners.
The race went to Gemignani, a sophomore, at 18 minutes, 30 seconds at Cuesta College’s Fairbanks Cross Country Course, and Hill — who came away woozy and exhausted — completed her run in 18:31.
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“She’s the winner,” Gemignani said. “It’s her birthday. She deserves it.”
Perhaps it should have ended a tie. And the two close friends helped the Eagles place four runners in the top six to win the meet handily with 24 points.
San Luis Obispo’s Kelsey Harper finished in 19 minutes for third place, the same position that her team finished with 52 points.
Paso Robles took second with 52 points — helped by Ashley Davis’ fourth-place mark at 19:02 and Amanda Schultz, who was eighth.
But Arroyo Grande was dominant on the course on a day with mild winds and moderate temperatures.
“We ran the race exactly the way we planned it,” Arroyo Grande coach Sean Ricketts said. “The idea was to take it out quick and spread out. Some of our girls paid for it, but the plan worked great. We have been running controlled races, and this is the first race we took it out quick and let loose to run hard.”
Hill, a freshman, said the plan was to run a 5:50 first mile.
She and Gamignani ran about 5:54 on one of the most difficult courses they’ve had this season because of its hills.
“I could feel it in my legs on the hills,” Hill said. “We went all out. We were really pumped up for this.”
In the boys race, San Luis Obispo’s William Ernst also went all out and created space for himself from the pack down the final stretch.
That was the plan, he said, and he was able to hold on for a fairly comfortable 15:48 victory over Paso Robles’ Zach Chamberlain, who finished second in 15:53. San Luis Obispo’s Jeremy Costello placed third in 15:54.
“I’ve tried running with the pack this season, and that hasn’t worked as well as I’d have liked,” Ernst said. “I just wanted to set my own pace today and finish as hard as I could.”
Ernst, a runner about 6-foot-4, said that his height is an advantage in some ways because of his long legs, but going downhill he feels like it’s a disadvantage and that he’s slowed down.
Nonetheless, he ran a 4:50 first mile and held a sizable margin down the stretch.
Ernst led his team to a victory as San Luis Obispo finished first with 42 points; Arroyo Grande was second with 48, and Paso Robles was third with 54.
“That’s a credit to Will’s race plan,” San Luis Obispo coach Steve Boaz said. “He thought he could do it, and he executed it perfectly. … In any given race, any one of three teams could win. This was really close. I’m very happy with how we performed across the board today.”
Ethan Serpa of Paso Robles came in fourth at 15:59, and Christian Ricketts of Arroyo Grande finished fifth at 16:01.
The news of the victory sent the Tigers into some fist pumps and cheers in celebration.
The league’s top four teams now move on to the CIF-Southern Section preliminaries.
Los Padres League Finals
Nipomo’s Kyra Meko broke a course record in the girls league championship race Thursday, running the 3-mile Santa Ynez course in 18 minutes, 2 seconds.
Meko won the race and was followed by teammate Gracie Albano, who finished second with a time of 18:22.
Austin Lay of Morro Bay won the boys race, running the course in 15:13.
The Pirates finished first as a team with 39 points, Santa Ynez finished second (48) and Cabrillo finished third (61).
Nipomo came in at No. 5 (144), and Templeton came in last with 194 points.
In the girls race, Nipomo won with 35 points, and was followed by Templeton (59) and Lompoc (86).
Morro Bay finished fifth in the girls race with 111 points.
The top finishers in the girls race behind Meko and Albano were Veronica Russell (18:30) and Kecymar Osuna (18:57) of Templeton, who finished third and fourth, respectively.
Morro Bay’s top girls runner was Shannon McClish (18:58).
In the boys race, the Pirates had three other finishers in top 10 after Lay — Andrew Stafford (16 minutes), who came in fifth; Daniel Van Beudren (16:11) in ninth and Angel Virgen (16:14).
Nipomo’s top boys runner was Rogelio Flores, who finished sixth behind Stafford with a time of 16:01.
Tribune staff contributed to this report.