In fourth place midway through the 400 meter hurdles at the state qualifier track and field meet last Friday, Baldwin’s Russell Johnson shifted into high gear.
He surged to the finish line as Carey’s Kenneth Ciulla made a desperation headfirst dive. Neither could reach winner Lorvens Hyppolite of Farmingdale, but runner-up status was equally important with a trip to the state championships awarded to the top two spots.
After some agonizing moments, it was determined through video review Johnson nipped Ciulla by an eyelash — one-hundredth of a second, to be exact. Johnson’s official time was 55.29 seconds. Ciulla’s was 55.30, while Hyppolite finished in 54.69.
“It was just unbelievable,” Baldwin coach Rich Carroll said. “Russell made a tremendous burst, but it still didn’t look like he was going to get there.
“All of our kids came out of the stands after the race,” he added. “Everyone went crazy when the results were announced. Knowing Russell is a senior and it was his last chance to make states, we couldn’t be happier for him.”
Johnson, also the Division 1B champion and Nassau Class AAA runner-up in the event, heads to Syracuse this Friday for the state meet at Cicero-North High School. “Coming down the home stretch, I knew I had to put my body on the line and give it my all,” he said. “After I found out I came in second, my teammates, coaches and I were overwhelmed with all types of emotion. Some cheered, others cried, and I did both for the first time.”
Carroll said Johnson was ready-made for hurdles. “He’s been on varsity for four years and hurdles came naturally to him,” the coach said. “Even as a freshman, he was helping teammates become better at it.”
Johnson was also a key piece of the Bruins’ 4x400 relay, which took first in the division meet with fellow senior Kinneth Sheppard, junior Mutiu Shittu and sophomore Justin Stuart. They finished in 3:35. Shittu ran the leadoff leg in the relay and was Baldwin’s top middle-distance runner. He placed third in the division in the 400 dash in 51.55 seconds. “He peaked at the right time,” Carroll said.
Sheppard came a long way since last spring, Carroll noted, and was runner-up to Johnson in the 400 hurdles in the division meet and also took fifth in the 110 hurdles. Senior Jayden Lloyd-Forde was a solid 400 hurdler as well and also scored consistently in the long jump and triple jump, while senior newcomer Divine Nwalor excelled in the shot put (second in division meet) and discus. Junior Hamdan Alsaif finished fifth in the division in the discus.
Leading the Bruins (7-6 regular-season record) in distance races were sophomores Patrick Mulvey and Liam Graff. Mulvey blew away the field in the division’s 800 race with a time of 2:04.13, while Graff placed second in the 1600 in 4:42.63. Carroll said Graff logged the most mileage of anyone on the roster.