HERSHEY – Prior to running in the WPIAL Cross Country Championships, where he finished in second place, Waynesburg senior Ben Bumgarner said he wasn’t fretting about his performance at that meet because he had bigger goals.
“I’m chasing PIAA gold,” Bumgarner admitted.
The chase is over.
And Bumgarner has the gold.
Bumgarner won the Class AA state championship Saturday, pulling away late in the race and covering the Parkview Cross Country Course in Hershey in 16:01. He won by 12 seconds over runner-up and two-time WPIAL champion Zach Skolnekovich of Quaker Valley, who had defeated Bumgarner at the WPIAL meet eight days earlier.
“The WPIALs would have been nice to win, but I knew the kid who beat me there was going to be my best competition. The WPIAL meet was all about getting as much information about him and how he would run me,” Bumgarner said. “I knew he had a really good kick and I didn’t want to be next to him with 100 meters to go.”
So the strategy was for Bumgarner, who is the first state cross country champion from Waynesburg, to start fast, force the pace and try to build a lead so big it would negate Skolnekovich’s finishing kick.
The race unfolded almost perfectly for Bumgarner.
“I wanted to make my move between a mile and mile-and-a-half,” Bumgarner said. “The pace went out really hot, so it would have been stupid of me to make my move after a mile when they were pushing the pace for me.”
So Bumgarner waited until about the two-mile mark to make his move. When he did, he moved to the lead and steadily pulled away from the field.
“Ben started pushing and kept pulling away. It was an impressive win for him,” Waynesburg coach Matt Brandstetter said.
Bumgarner said he was surprised by the size of his lead at the end, but he took nothing for granted.
“When I came up over the final hill and hit the home stretch, I was leading by over 50 meters,” he explained. “I didn’t have to really push it to the end.”
Bumgarner placed seventh at the state meet last year.
The South Fayette boys team placed third in Class AA. Lions senior Aaron Pfeil finished fourth in 16:28, only 27 seconds behind Bumgarner. Sam Snodgrass of South Fayette placed sixth in 16:37.
Dallas won the Class AA team title with 85 points. York Suburban was second with 90 points and South Fayette had 116. Silas Mays was the third South Fayette runner to cross the finish line, placing 67th.
Cade Rush, Bumgarner’s teammate at Waynesburg, was 64th in 17:47.
“Cade was a little disappointed but he shouldn’t be,” Brandstetter said. “He finished about 50 spots better than last year and ran 12, maybe 15, seconds faster. Everything came together for all my runners.”
In Class A girls, West Greene sophomore McKenna Lampe placed 82nd with a time of 21:42. Her twin sister, Madison Lampe, placed 113th in 22:20. The Lampe sisters were the first West Greene runners to qualify for the PIAA Championships since 2011.
In Class AA girls, South Fayette’s Maria DeCello placed 102nd in 21:15.