SACRAMENTO — Beyer High junior Sean Gomes, alone and in front down the stretch of the 800 meters, checked for pursuers.
He saw no one. But he heard steps.
They belonged to Atwater senior John Guerrero, a late-blooming senior brandishing a late-race kick. Gomes stayed clear, however, and his reward Friday night was a Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 title.
"John ran a great race. I heard him behind me," said Gomes, whose 1:55.62 barely missed the meet record. "It was a little scary."
Gomes and Modesto High pole vaulter Sarah Skinner took home titles and will join many Stanislaus District qualifiers making a return trip to Hughes Stadium next week for the Section Masters.
Guerrero didn't try track until his junior year, but he caught on quickly. He caught Gomes' attention in Thursday's preliminaries with a 1:56.44, better than Gomes' 1:58.63 in a different heat.
"I've raced against him five times this," Gomes said. "I knew he was good."
Gomes responded with an aggressive and determined race. He bounced into the lead at the 400-meter mark over Franklin of Elk Grove's Julian Patterson — his older brother runs for UCLA — and stretched his lead to about 5 meters. All that was left was holding off Guerrero, who plans to walk on this fall at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Gomes beat him to the line by about two strides.
"I felt like I needed to take over," Gomes said in reference to his mid-race charge. "I knew it would be John coming at me."
The meet forged on beneath dark clouds and coat-mandating wind at Hughes, the old-school horseshoe. Coaches cautioned athletes against costly muscle pulls, given the cool conditions and the fact the top 10 in each event — the top nine plus the fastest or best non-qualifier — come back to Hughes next week for the Section Masters.
Insufficient stretching could end a season one week shy of its ultimate destination, so the focus wasn't necessarily on final results.
That said, section titles do mean something. Skinner, a sophomore, competed in sunny and warm weather on Thursday, missing the bluster and rain that marred Friday's boys pole vault.
Skinner, also a member of Modesto High's winning tennis team, won with a vault of 10-2, two inches better than her previous best. She credited a new 12-foot-long pole, 6 inches longer than what she used during the season, for the victory.
"I had a nice tail wind. The new pole made it easy to get over the bar and it had a bigger bend," Skinner said. "I'm almost sure I won't make it to state, but I really want to get upside-down. My goal this year was 11 feet."
Another mild surprise came from Enochs freshman Faith Makau, who celebrated her 15th birthday with a second-place finish in the 800 (2:21.17). Makau led with about 300 meters left until she was overtaken by St. Francis junior Mikaela Vaden, who also beat Makau in one of the heats Thursday.
"I tried to discourage her (by taking the lead), but she's fast," Makau said. "I was ranked sixth and finished second. I'm happy."
Picking up thirds were Grace Davis' Roberto Rosas in the 3,200 and Enochs' Erica Goynes in the 400. Grace Davis' Shea Taylor, the daughter of former Modesto Junior College star Janet Taylor, qualified for the Section Masters in the 100 hurdles, the triple jump and the long jump. The Beyer 4x400 relay quartet challenged but settled for fourth.
Buhach Colony junior Rebecca Hammar, third in the state as a sophomore in the discus, captured the discus title Thursday night, then took second in the shot put as the sun set Friday.
Her marks in the discus (138 feet, 7 inches) and the shot (41¾) did not approach her season bests. She missed the double when Florin's Anamanu Folau tossed 42-6 on her next-to-last attempt.
"I'm working on the things I need to make me throw farther," Hammar said. "My practices have been going well. I didn't hit them (season bests) but I was in the neighborhood, so that's pretty good."
Hammar shares information often with sister Rachel Hammar, the former Buhach Colony star now at Cal State Long Beach.
"We talk more about the emotional side of things than the technical side," Rebecca said. "What we do is emotional, especially when you're dedicated and you're doing something you care about."
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.