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NEW PRAIRIE — As Mitchell Gits approached the finish line of Saturday morning’s IHSAA New Prairie boys’ cross-country regional, the LaPorte senior went through a variety of physical displays of emotion.

With 20 yards to go in the race, and victory assured, Gits began playing to the crowd a bit as he first grabbed his jersey, prominently displaying “LaPorte” to the cheering crowd. Gits then raised up his right hand and put a singular finger in the air as a big smile crept across his face.

Forgive Gits for not acting like he’d been there before, because he hadn’t.

“I’ve never won anything like this before, not even in junior varsity,” Gits said minutes after he held off Morgan Twp. senior Trevor Braden by five seconds for the individual regional title. “I had to give a little bit of everything (as I crossed the line). This is the best feeling in the world.”

Gits finished in second place in last week’s sectional race at New Prairie, but that didn’t mean the LaPorte senior had any delusions of winning on Saturday. He didn’t even know if he had actually won as he began to pull away from Braden on the final backstretch of the course.

“I knew I was locked in today and it kind of felt like it was my game and everyone else was playing it,” Gits said. “But I didn’t know if I got him. I didn’t know if I had more or if he had more at the end. I know that I always have a powerful burst.”

That burst was enough to get Gits across the line in 16:15.6, while Braden was nipping at his heels at 16:20.2. Gits’ top finish helped lead LaPorte to a third-place team finish, good enough to advance to next week’s New Prairie semistate along with Chesterton, Valparaiso, New Prairie and Portage.

Gits became the first LaPorte runner to take first place at the regional since Anthony Didion won in 2013.

“I never knew what this feeling was before,” Gits said. “It feels like being a great part of our school’s cross-country history.”

Braden advances despite falling short

Morgan Twp. senior Trevor Braden may have fallen short of his goal as taking the “low stick,” but he’ll have another crack at Gits and the rest of the field next week at the New Prairie semistate. The Cherokees failed to advance as a team, but Braden’s second-place finish was good enough to lead a group of 10 runners that will advance as individuals.

“There were a lot of tough competitors out here today and I just tried to stay on their shoulders,” Braden said. “I tried to make a surge late and I took the lead for a little, but (Gits) made another surge and he came by me. I look at this as I got a good race under my belt and I’ll come out here next week and run my race again.”

Braden will be joined by a handful of individual qualifiers next week, including Morgan Twp. freshman teammate Joshua Kutkiewicz as well as top-10 finishers Carson Bakker (Covenant Christian) and Hudson Hall (Wheeler).

Chesterton takes team title as Acton pulls out

Chesterton and Valparaiso did battle at the top of the team standings once again after the Vikings edged Chesterton by 10 points in last week’s sectional. The Trojans came out victorious on Saturday morning as Nathan O’Connor (16:28.1) paced Chesterton with a fourth-place finish. The Trojans placed their five top runners in the Top 20 and beat Valparaiso by 16 points.

“The goal is to be better than we were last week and we accomplished that today.” Chesterton coach Tim Ray said. “It’s a tribute to the kids that we’ve got. Our pack of runners did a better job of staying together this week.”

The Vikings were a bit short-handed on Saturday as sectional winner Jack Acton dropped out of the race midway through after battling illness and missing school for much of the week. Valparaiso coach Aaron Crague gave Acton the option of not competing on Saturday, but the junior wanted to be there for his teammates.

“We wanted to be cautious going into the race, but Jack really wanted to run for his team,” Crague said. It was something that we kept an eye on and right before 4k, I pulled him off. I just didn’t want to risk anything. At the end of the day it’s about advancing. We did that today and we didn’t want to put semistate in jeopardy. I give a lot of credit to Jack for trying to push through. We’ll get him back ready to go next week.”