EAGLE LAKE — The boys race of the Polk County Championships was billed as a showdown between Lake Wales' Andy Denton and Mac Updike and George Jenkins' Brady Zimmerman.
The race lived up to expectations.
The trio ran grouped together for most of the race before Denton pulled slightly ahead late to capture the individual title on Saturday morning at Lake Region High School.
Denton, who won by about eight seconds, and Updike also led the Highlanders to the team title as they knocked off defending champion George Jenkins.
In the girls race, sophomore Alicia Ruiz and defending champion Anna Sentner finished 1-2 with Ruiz winning her first individual county title and the Jenkins girls winning their seventh consecutive team title.
This was the second time Denton won at Lake Region this year. In early September, he ran 16:35.4 to win the George Whitmire Classic. On Saturday, he ran a personal-best 16:15.9. To be part of the winning team made the day even sweeter for him.
"This is great," Denton said. "We trained so hard for it. To see it happen is really cool."
In the earlier race, Denton didn't take the lead until the last 800 meters. This time, however, he took a slight lead with a mile to go and made the others chase him.
"We were going, and I didn't want to leave any confusion on who was going to win, so I just went for it," Denton said.
Winning the county title was one off Denton's goals for the season. His next goals are at district and to run under 16 minutes.
"I'm happy where I am," he said. "I feel I'm getting faster so we'll see what happens."
Updike, who owns the county's best boys time this year of 16:15.4, ran a strong 16:23.6 to hold off Zimmerman by three seconds. Zimmerman ran 16:26.8.
"We were just coming into it looking to win 1-2," Updike said. "Whoever won, it was good. We were just happy with what we did today."
Lake Wales used its tremendous depth to blow by everyone in the team competition. The Highlanders placed six runners — only five are needed for team points — in the top 14. Freshman Landon Morales, senior Stephen Ward, sophomore Joesem Torres and senior Michael Holden finished 11-12-13-14.
The Highlanders finished with 39 points. Jenkins was second with 78 points, and Auburndale was third with 108 points. Four runners, Denton, Morales, Ward and Torres all had personal records.
"We did even better than expected," Lake Wales coach A.J. Richmond said. "We definitely know we can (be) better, and we still need to get better. And they know it too."
In the girls race, Ruiz, who ran despite being sick, took the lead early and ran 19:00.6 en route to the win.
"I was by myself most of the time," she said. "Right now, I'm sick so I just wanted to just go and do my best."
Sentner ran a season-best 19:23.6 in finishing second, which was encouraging to head coach Dale Meskimen.
The Eagles placed four runners in the top 10 — freshman Isabel Miller was sixth and junior Vicktorya Manno was ninth. No. 5 runner Kalie Maliek was just outside the top 10 in 11th place.
"The girls, their times have been coming down the last two meets," Meskimen said. "We've dropped times for everyone except Alicia who was sick."