Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Kale Cassidy had only 100 yards left to run, but he was chasing 37 years of history.

Cassidy, a Baker High School junior, was more concerned, however, with the competitor straining right beside him as they neared the finish line of the 3,000-meter race Friday at the Class 4A state meet.

That was La Grande senior Bennett Welch.

It was a familiar sight, the two of them shoulder to shoulder in the final stretch.

They finished one-two in both the 1,500 and 3,000 events at the district meet, with Cassidy winning the former race and Welch the latter.

“I just knew I could run with Bennett,” Cassidy said on Sunday. “It’s a friendship and a rivalry.”

With the finish in sight at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, Cassidy, 16, knew what was at stake.

A state championship.

And, quite possibly, a Baker High School record that had stood since 1982.

“I just knew the only way I was going to win the race is if I gave it my all,” Cassidy said. “So I just went for it.”

And when his final step carried him past the line, Bennett several strides behind, Cassidy had everything he could have hoped for.

The championship.

And the record.

“It really overwhelmed me,” Cassidy said. “At the start of the day that’s not where I expected to be.”

Cassidy, who finished seventh in the 3,000 at last year’s state meet and in doing so set his personal record in the event at 9:10.89, certainly didn’t anticipate that he would undercut that mark by almost 20 seconds — and run 30 seconds faster than his previous best this year.

“The moment felt amazing but I couldn’t just put words to it,” Cassidy said.

His time of 8:51.32 broke the BHS record of 8:55.36, set in 1982 by Dan Nelson.

Cassidy said that although he was aware of Nelson’s record, he didn’t think about it until he started the final lap and a trackside clock showed that his time with 400 meters to go was 7:50.

Cassidy said he had run the final lap in 64 seconds in an earlier race, so he knew Nelson’s record was within range.

“That gave me a lot of inspiration,” Cassidy said. “I just knew I had the energy to push myself early and not drop off during that last lap.”

He had in fact felt strong from the first lap.

“I was feeling pretty good, and that normally signifies how I’m going to feel for the rest of the race,” Cassidy said.

When Welch, who finished third in the 3,000 last year, ran out to an early lead, Cassidy was ready to go with him.

Cassidy said he wanted to stay with Welch, but he was also concerned about being stuck in a group of tightly packed runners.

“If you get in the middle of the pack it’s hard to maneuver,” Cassidy said.

He and Welch set the pace for most of the race.

“We work off each other in races,” Cassidy said. “It’s been me and him against each other all season, really the past two years.”

Cassidy’s landmark finish in the 3,000 wasn’t the end of his busy weekend.

On Saturday he returned to the track and finished fourth in the 1,500.

“It was a really tough race for me,” Cassidy said.

His struggles were both physical — typically the 1,500 is the first race of a meet, followed by the 3,000 — and mental.

Cassidy admits he was thinking about the possibility of a second state championship.

“I think I had it too much in my mind that I was going to do it rather than the possibility of doing it,” he said.

Although he was in a good position with one lap to go, Cassidy said he wasn’t able to respond when a few runners “blew past me.”

“I wasn’t mentally prepared for that challenge,” he said.

But Cassidy said he was still satisfied with a fourth-place finish.

“I wasn’t disappointed with how I performed,” he said. “Fourth place is still amazing. I gave it what I had.”

With his senior year ahead, including both cross country and track seasons, Cassidy said he plans to take a break from running for a couple of weeks before beginning to prepare for the fall cross country season.

“It’s a dream goal to be a state champion in cross country,” he said. “But that’s going to take a lot of work.”

Cassidy’s championship in the 3,000 led the Baker boys to a 14th place finish in the team standings in the Class 4A meet.

Riley Flanagan finished third in the boys triple jump with a leap of 42 feet, 10.5 inches.

The Baker girls finished 20th. Emma Baeth placed fourth in the 800 with a time of 2:24.46, after finishing third in Friday’s preliminaries. Baeth finished ninth, and Sydney Younger 10th in the 400 prelims. Younger also was 12th in the long jump.

Seth Rushton and Rebby Daniels had no height in the boys pole vault and girls high jump.

Baker’s girls 4x400 relay placed sixth, and 4x100 relay 12th. The boys 4x400 relay placed 13th. The 4x100 relay was disqualified.

Brittanie Conant was 13th in the girls triple jump.