SHIPPENSBURG — Talk about a show-stealer.

Carlisle’s Casey Padgett threw down the gauntlet in a show-stopping, gold-clinching boys Class 3A 3200 performance to cap the opening day of the District 3 Track & Field Championships at Shippensburg University on Friday.

The junior posted a 9:25.96, stunning his opponents with a PR that was nearly 16 seconds better than his previous best. It beat a wide-open field that included an impressed Mechanicsburg senior Brandan Knepper (silver, 9:27.59).

“At first when he went out, he went out with like 600 left, something like that, maybe [800],” Knepper said. “And I thought, you know, maybe he’s kicking too early and I was just going to hunt him down at the end. Obviously we found out that wasn’t the case.”

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Not at all.

Padgett, admittedly not a strong kicker, broke away from the pack in the last two laps and built about a five-second lead. Knepper tried to close in the last 400 and narrowed it down to two seconds, but that was it.

“I know in that race there were so many kickers, and my coach was like, ‘You can’t let it come down to a final sprint,’” Padgett said. “He was like, ‘You gotta get away at some point.’”

Padgett said he started to see a couple lead runners pull away a little before his move. But he was feeling strong and decided to go for it.

“And so when I caught them, my coach was just like, ‘You’re perfect there. If you feel good, roll,’” he said. “I felt so good at that point, I didn’t even care if I didn’t have it or not.”

The leaders crossed the mile mark with about a 4:50 pace, slower than expect. That might have played into Padgett’s hand, giving him enough juice for that surprising early push over the last two laps.

He said he and head coach Ed Boardman decided at the beginning of the year to get an early D3 qualifying time and then hang back the rest of the way. So while the PR may have shocked outsiders, he felt at the end it was something he was capable of.

Now he gets to revel in his first gold-medal performance that gained the respect of his competitors.

“I guess going into states I’m gonna have to just know if he makes a move, I’m going to have to go with him,” Knepper said. “It’s definitely a fun add onto the pack of the guys that are going here.”

Starliper three-peats

Northern’s Marlee Starliper was so casual, it was almost surprising to see her hang back in third and second for the majority of the girls 3A 3200.

But it was all strategy. The national talent was more than comfortable letting other runners set the pace early, pulling away over the last two laps to win her third straight district title in the event with a 10:24.21 over Warwick’s Kate Dickow.

Starliper hopes it conserves energy for perhaps the distance races’ best event Saturday: a showdown with Greencastle-Antrim’s Taryn Parks in the 1600.

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“Yeah. Taryn’s always great competition,” Starliper said. “I definitely wanted to save as much as I could for tomorrow.”

Toti raises the bar ... again

Carlisle’s Sophia Toti just keeps setting the bar higher.

The junior’s breakout distance season continued in the 3200 with a third-place 10:30.86, a new PR that once again elevates the Thundering Herd record. She owns the school marks in the 3200, 1600 and 800, all events she will run this weekend.

“I was very happy with my race,” Toti said. “My coach told me to try and get third, break my PR and a school record. And I did.”

With Starliper hanging back, Toti said it felt like it allowed some of the other runners to find a comfortable rhythm.

“I think it helped, especially me and [Cedar Crest’s] Gwyneth Young just because we were just staying with her for the first mile, and [Starliper] kind of brought us to the next two girls,” Toti said. “I think it made us faster.

It was her only race of the day, but her most grueling of the weekend. She’ll run Saturday in the mile, 800 and the 4x800. And in states she will likely narrow things to the mile, two-mile and distance relay.

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County owns podium

Cumberland County runners were all over the 3200 podiums. Camp Hill’s Laura Sakol successfully defended her top seed in the girls 2A 3200, winning with an 11:36.37.

The junior’s first individual district title came by a six-second margin over Greenwood’s Amiyah Priebe. Sakol also enters Saturday’s 1600 as the top seed.

Trinity’s Braylee Fetterolf also made the girls 2A podium with a 12:17.13, good for sixth. Cumberland Valley’s Luke Klingenberg claimed the last 3A boys medal with a 9:53.87. And Camp Hill’s Matt Gurgiolo was eighth, good for a medal, in boys 2A with a 10:11.22.

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Email Jake Adams at jadams@cumberlink.com or follow him on Twitter @jakeadams520