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Brannen breezes in 3A mile

BRIDGE CITY — Aaron Brannen became the first modern-day Bridge City athlete to ever secure three UIL gold medals in one school year.

Adding the mile run on Saturday to Friday’s two-mile and last fall’s cross country Class 3A state championships, Brannen cruised home to victory in the boys 1,600-meter run by slightly more than a full three seconds.

It’s not that blistering time which his coach Rick Miller would have wished — sub-4:20 — but a 4:25.34 more than enabled Brannen to have breathing room from challengers Brad Mullens of Waco Robinson (4:28.35) and Mitchell Driver of Princeton (4:29.25).

The seeds in Aaron’s gold-rush pursuit were planted here a year ago at Mike A. Myers Stadium on the UT-Austin campus when the dark-haired, freckle-faced junior with braces had to settle for silver medals in both the mile and two-mile.

That experience taught Brannen a valuable lesson — that coming to the 95th annual University Interscholastic League state track and field championships was all about winning and nothing else.

Such analysis played into Aaron’s race strategy in Friday morning’s 3,200 meters and Saturday afternoon’s 1,600 meters. The idea of winning also caused the West Orange-Stark quartet of Jacoby Franks, Jerrod Lewis, Earl Thomas and a weakened Kenneth Beasley to feel somewhat disappointed even though it combined for a season-best bronze medal time of 1:27.92.

Beasley had not practiced at all for the past two weeks after being hospitalized shortly after the 3A regional meet due to pneumonia. A stronger, sharper Beasley arguably would have been hard-pressed to defeat state champ Cuero’s time of 1:26.50 but Beasley would have been able to have held off silver medalist Daingerfield’s late charge (1:27.89).

“I got a lot of recovery time and I felt good,” Brannen said after overtaking the pack midway into the third of four laps. “We had two runners go out very fast but I stayed with my pace. I knew I had the kick to come around and win. My throat was dry but it didn’t seem to slow me down any.

“I knew those two would slow down and I knew Mullens would be strong at the end.”

The victory also enabled Brannen’s outstanding instructor to retire from coaching on top. Twelve-year distance-running tutor Rick Miller announced that he intended to remain at the high school as a science teacher but to stop coaching distance runners in track as well as cross country.

“Aaron ran a smart race,” Miller said. “He didn’t get that 4:20 but he could have if he had been pushed. I just want those kids to know how privileged I’ve been to be a part of this. Those kids came out every morning and pushed Aaron to work for this. They’ve all been important in supporting him.”

Brannen’s consistency was evidenced in his quarter-mile splits of 66, 66, 67 and 66.3. He stood in sixth place just two seconds off the pace after one lap and remained two seconds back in fourth place at the halfway point. Midway into the third lap (1,000 meters), he took over the race with a cushion of eight meters after three laps. The margin bulged to 20 on the victory lap.

“I’m happy with my performance,” he said. “I got spiked at the very start of the race but it didn’t matter that much. I had worked hard all season.”

The final chapter was slightly disappointing for Beasley, the University of Texas football signee, who gallantly fought off pneumonia in his final high school track performance. Teammate Earl Thomas ran a strong wind 21.7 into a fierce south wind, but Daingerfield overtook Beasley just before the finish line, causing WO-S to settle for third.

“I think it took a big toll,” WO-S first-year coach Toby Foreman said of Beasley. “It definitely showed at the end. He was throwing up most of the weekend. When he got the stick, you could tell it wasn’t him.”

The Mustangs still managed to lower their previous season-best (1:28.82 at regionals) by nearly a full second. Foreman indicated that Thomas, a junior, was the first WO-S athlete ever to earn three bronze state medals (for football, basketball and track and field) in one school year.