Tigers turn in solid efforts on final day of NCAA track championships

EUGENE, Ore. —After a bit of a rough start Saturday, the LSU track and field teams saved their best for last on the final day of the NCAA championships.

The sixth-ranked Tigers got a third-place finish from their 4x400-meter relay team in the final event, while the eighth-ranked Lady Tigers got second-place performances from Jasmin Stowers and Tori Bliss as the meet came to a close.

Their efforts capped a productive final day for both teams.

As a result, both finished two places higher than their pre-meet ranking by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The Tigers tied for fourth with 29 points, while the Lady Tigers scored 34 points for sixth — one point shy of giving LSU a pair of top-five team finishes.

Oregon ran away with the men’s title with 88 points. Florida was second with 70, while Texas A&M (41½) and LSU and Southern Cal (29 each) rounded out the top five.

On the women’s side, Texas A&M won for the fifth time in the past seven seasons with 75 points, with Texas (66), Oregon (59), Florida (55) and Georgia (35) following.

“In this whole seven-day journey, we had only one performance that didn’t come through … and it wasn’t for a lack of effort,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said of the three-day NCAA preliminary rounds that determined who would go on to the NCAA semifinals and finals.

Shaver was referring to discus thrower Rodney Brown, who didn’t qualify for the finals Friday after coming into the meet with the top mark from the preliminary rounds.

In the end, the Tigers, who received one of the trophies that go to the top four teams, would have taken fourth place outright even if Brown had won because they couldn’t have overtaken A&M for third.

LSU scored 17 points Saturday by finishing third in both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays, while Aaron Ernest, who ran the second leg on the sprint relay, claimed fourth in the 200 meters.

LSU’s top finishes, however, were produced by Stowers and Bliss, who made up for the points the Lady Tigers missed out on when freshmen Rushell Harvey and Jada Martin failed to execute the second exchange on the 4x100 relay.

Stowers, who ran the leadoff leg on the 4x100, ended her LSU career on a high note when she nearly pulled off a huge win in the 100 hurdles.

Getting off to a solid start and maintaining throughout, Stowers ran a wind-aided 12.54 — the fifth-fastest time run by a collegian under any conditions — but was edged by Arkansas State’s Sharika Nelvis (12.52).

“I used the disappointment from the 4x100 because I needed some positive energy for the 100 hurdles,” a smiling Stowers said. “It was an amazing feeling right after the race because I was so close to winning.

“I couldn’t believe it … I looked at the scoreboard and saw I was two-hundredths of a second from winning. But I was happy.”

So was Bliss, who at the same time was finishing second in the shot put with a personal-best of 57 feet, 4¼ inches after taking the lead on her second attempt.

The mark, which broke her own school record, looked like it would hold up until Iowa State’s Christina Hillman uncorked a throw of 58-2 on her final attempt to win.

“That (second) throw felt awesome and effortless, which is what it’s supposed to feel like,” said Bliss, who was ranked 12th in the nation after the preliminary rounds. “I knew it was going to be a good one as soon as it left my hands based on my yell. It was all about feeling comfortable and feeling confident.”

The men’s sprint relay team of Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, Ernest, Tremayne Acy and Shermund Allsop threatened to pull off an upset when the first three runners gave Allsop a slight lead.

Allsop tried to finish it off, but couldn’t hold off a pair of world-class sprinters in Florida’s Dedric Dukes and Texas A&M’s Deon Lendore. Dukes surged to the front to give Florida the win in 38.73 seconds with A&M (38.84) and LSU following (38.85).

Later, Ernest finished fourth in the 200 meters with a slightly wind-aided time of 20.31 seconds while Dukes won in 19.91 seconds. Brown was second (20.02) and Northwestern State’s Justin Walker was third (20.13).

“I knew I really had to get out of the blocks in order to be leading against guys like Dedric Dukes and (USC’s) Aaron Brown,” Ernest said. “I was with them at 150 meters, but they kind of got a half-step on me and pulled away. I felt great at 150 meters, but then my legs kind of died on me.”

The Tigers wrapped up the meet by finishing third in the 4x400 relay as the team of Quincy Downing, Darrell Bush, Cyril Grayson and Vernon Norwood clocked in with a season’s-best of 3 minutes, 1.60 seconds.

“When you look at it, the men were fourth and the women were sixth — and they were one point away from being fifth,” said Shaver. “That says a lot about this group. I’m proud of the way they handled the preliminary rounds and the way they performed here.”