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SMALL COLLEGES: North Central’s Johnny Crain has big run at Drake Relays

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Updated: June 3, 2013 3:39PM

With athletes from high school, all college levels, and invitational events for elite competitors beyond college levels, the Drake Relays have a unique place in track and field. For North Central College, the event long has had a cherished spot on the schedule.

“We have a great history at Drake Relays,” said coach Frank Gramarosso, noting the NCAA Division III Cardinals have competed in the event since 1974, including every year since 1983. “It’s a lot of fun. In the College Division, you compete against Division II and NAIA, and then the events that are University and College, those are the ones that are real tough ones just to get in.”

Johnny Crain not only got into the University and College 5,000-meter run, he nearly pulled off a big victory on Thursday in the weekendlong relays. Crain, named CCIW running event athlete of the week, was nipped at the finish line by Brogan Austin of Division I Drake, but he posted a time of 14:12.80 that’s the second fastest among Division III athletes this season and the fastest for North Central since 1996.

“He almost won that thing, and he was competing against a lot of great Division I athletes,” Gramarosso said.

North Central has never had an athlete win an individual event win at Drake, but has won six relay events, with the most recent champion being the 2010 4x800-meter relay team. This time the Cardinals finished fourth in the 4x200 and seventh in the 4x800, and missed qualifying for the finals at 10th in the 4x400.

Apart from their events, the Cardinals got a look at some elite competitors in a series of “London Rematch” events bringing 2012 Olympians back on the track.

“We were there for our own purposes, but sometimes seeing other athletes in that environment is a great experience,” Gramarosso said. “Experience is they way you build confidence, and going up against Division I opponents, it’ll hopefully make the Division III meet a little more relaxed for some athletes.

While 27 Cardinals were at Drake, the rest of the squad was finishing fifth in the 14-team Benedictine Twilight Invitational on Friday in Lisle.

The CCIW outdoor championships is this weekend at Millikin in Decatur, where Gramarosso expects a tough battle from Augustana.

Strong finish

Saint Xavier right-hander Scott Vachon was named CCAC Baseball Pitcher of the Week for the last week of the regular season. He pitched complete game victories as the Cougars topped Robert Morris 3-2 and St. Francis 4-1. He finished his season 7-0 with a 3.19 ERA.

St. Xavier finished 23-18, 18-12, but did not make the six-team CCAC playoffs, losing the final spot in Trinity Christian in a tiebreaker.

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