Part six in a series of some of the most memorable moments in Barton athletics
It was May 8, 2004.
It appeared as if the string of six consecutive NJCAA Outdoor Men’s Track and Field titles for Barton Community College was about to end.
Barton was down nearly 40 points to Central Arizona College early in the day and the chances of the needed points being there to catch the Vaqueros were slim.
But the chances were just good enough as Barton pulled out an improbable rally to capture its seventh straight outdoor title on the campus of South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. It moved Barton past Odessa College as the second longest streak to themselves in NJCAA history.
“They just kept plugging and plugging and plugging along,” coach Lyles Lashley said of his 2004 team. “We just kept focused on what we had to do one event at a time.”
The Cougars had held off Central Arizona the previous year, winning 155-147 wrapping up the title on the last event of the day. But that win was not nearly as dramatic as the one in 2004.
After a great first day and a good morning of field events for the Vaqueros, Central Arizona led by nearly 40. Jake Raines was able to cut that lead a bit during the 3000m steeplechase as the sophomore from Mississippi took third in the event.
Raines would play a big role later in the day as well.
By the time the focus was solely on the track for the start of the 4x100m relay that afternoon Central Arizona had an 83.5-50 lead on the Cougars.
The heat of the west Texas plains was picking up as temperatures hit 90 in Levelland by mid-afternoon. Thankfully the south wind stayed relatively calm.
Coach Lashley knew his team was better on the track – especially the sprints – but to gain the amount of points needed, Barton was going to have to have some things break its way.
They did – from the outset.
Barton caught a break right away in the 4x100m relay. The Cougars quartet of Ronnie Pines, Steve Mullings, Ronald Wright, and Dexter Faulk edged past Jayhawk Conference foe KCK it a 2-team battle to win the race.
Central Arizona was disqualified and scored no points at all.
That cut the lead to 23.5 points.
That was just the first of what would be large roles for Mullings and Faulk during the comeback.
The next two events were not kind to Barton as the Cougars were not able to place in the 1500m and 400m. Central Arizona scored eight points in the 1500m on the heels of Obed Mutanya’s second place finish – beaten by another fellow Jayhawk runner from Cloud County.
Neither team had a runner make finals of the 400m so with seven events left the Cougars trailed 91.5-60.
The next two events would prove pivotal – one way or another. Barton was very strong in the 100m dash and 110m hurdles. If there was any chance of winning their seventh straight title, the Cougars would need to score and score big in those two events.
Faulk and his buddies got things started right in the 110m hurdles. Faulk, from Stone Mountain, Ga., had not lost to another junior college hurdler in his two years at Barton. But Central Arizona’s Alleyne Lett of Grenada would be a stiff challenge.
Running into a slight headwind Faulk won the head-to-head battle against Lett with ease. Faulk ran a 13.60 to Lett’s 13.89. They were the only two runners to break 14 seconds.
Barton had depth in the race as three Cougars made the finals. Freshman Dior Lowry took sixth and sophomore Curtis Carpenter seventh to give Barton 15 points in the event. That shaved seven more points off the Vaqueros lead, which now stood at 99.5-75.
If the 110m hurdles gave the Cougars some momentum the 100m dash sent it through the roof.
This time it was Mullings, a sophomore from Jamaica, who would lead the way.
Mullings ran a 10.17 to easily win the event. Wright would come up just shy of second place by .01, running a 10.39 for third. Pines took seventh in the race and with no Central Arizona runners qualifying for the final the Cougars had taken a large chunk out of the lead.
Suddenly with just five events left Barton was nipping on the heels of the Vaqueros, down just 99.5-94.
“I felt like we had a good chance at that point,” Lashley said. “Those two events changed our outlook a lot.”
In the 800m Barton caught another break as Kendall Simon qualified for third but was not able to run in the finals.
The momentum would swing back to Central Arizona in the 400m hurdles as the Vaqueros went 2-4 in the event but were looking for a 1-3 or 2-3 finish. Derrick Ray helped Barton salvage some points in the race with his fifth place finish but the lead was back to 112.5-98 with just three events left.
The difference maker was the 200m where Mullings and company took care of business.
Mullings had the third fastest time in the prelims the previous day but left nothing on the track as he blew by KCK’s Leroy Dixon to an easy win. Mullings won the event with a 20.58.
Again, Barton had depth in the race and Central Arizona sent no one to the finals. Jermaine Barton took fifth with a 21.57 and Faulk, the hurdle specialist, made the finals and took sixth.
That gave Barton a 17-0 advantage in the race which was the first lead of the meet – 115-112.5.
But Central Arizona was strong in the 5000m.
So strong the Vaqueros were looking to lock up the title in the race. They knew Barton would do nothing but gain points in the final event – the 4x400m relay – since they didn’t qualify a team.
So in order to lock up the title Central Arizona needed to outscore Barton by 13.5 points. It was a real possibility since it had the best 5000m in junior college in Mutanya.
Mutanya did as expected and eased his way to a win by more than 100 meters. But something unexpected happened along the way. The Vaqueros other two runners would only score one point combined.
In addition Raines threw a monkey wrench in the Central Arizona plans with a superb effort, taking fourth place to score Barton five huge points. During those days the 3000m steeplechase and the 5000m were both run on the final day. Raines scored important points in both that day.
“Jake ran a great race,” Lashley said. “We tried to keep him out of the sun after the steeplechase and get him some rest. Those five points were big for us.”
The Vaqueros did gain points and retook the lead but not as much as they had hoped.
Heading into the final race Central Arizona led just 123.5-120 meaning Barton needed just a fifth place finish in the 4x400m to make it seven straight titles.
The final race was set up the day before when Central Arizona missed the finals of the 4x400m by less than one-tenth of a second. Fellow Jayhawk schools Coffeyville and Butler edged out Central Arizona for the final two spots. Coffeyville ran a 3:14.63 and Butler a 3:14.81 to qualify. Central Arizona – running the same heat as those two – ran a 3:14.90.
Barton took the fourth best time to the finals. Derrick Ray, Frankie Wright (a jumper for the Cougars), Jermaine Barton, and Schafer Sherrer took care of business. The quartet ran a 3:08.01 to finish second and cap off the remarkable comeback. It was the fastest time of the year for Barton in the event by a full two seconds.
Final score – Barton 128, Central Arizona 123.5.
“It was a fun day,” Lashley said. “Stressful but fun. The kids really came up big when we needed them. It was a day I will never forget.”
It would end up being the last in the string of titles for Barton. The following year Central Arizona finally broke through to end the Cougars streak in Coffeyville.
Ironically, Central Arizona also ended the longest streak in the NJCAA when it ended Blinn (Texas) College’s streak of nine straight in 1995.
Barton would have one more improbable title in them – the 2005 indoor title to give the Cougars eight straight inside.