Published June 10. 2014 4:00AM
Middletown — Entering the 100-meter dash, Andris Vital wasn't considered a threat to win a State Open title.
Not many 21st seeds ever qualify for the finals, never mind finish first.
But Norwich Free Academy coach Kara Kochanski Vendola had faith in Vital, whose winning performance at the Middletown Invitational earlier this season served as evidence that the junior sprinter had championship potential.
Vital was back on the same track at Middletown High School on a rainy Monday and pulled off a stunning victory, nipping Crosby's Oscar Medina, the top seed, in a photo finish.
"He's been working real hard," Vendola said. "He came here for the Middletown Invite and placed first with a great time. I knew he was capable of winning (Class) LL and then he was a little disappointed when he didn't win the LL.
"So he came in wanting to redeem himself."
Vital jumped out to a fast start and finished in 11.07 seconds, barely beating Medina (11.10) to capture his first State Open title.
"He was right by me and he wasn't leaving me," Vital said. "I had to lean for that win. I thought I won, but I didn't know because he was leaning, too. My coach came over and said I got it. ... "It feels great."
Two other Eastern Connecticut Conference athletes earned State Open titles.
Fitch senior Tyler Latham capped an oustanding career by winning the javelin (184 feet) and 300 intermediate hurdles (38.85 seconds) while placing fourth in the 110 hurdles (15.02).
Ledyard senior Chenoa Sebastian defended her title in the 100 hurdles, winning in 14.73.
The wet weather proved to be challenging for the field athletes, including Latham in the javelin.
"It's good to get the victories," Latham said. "I just wish my last state meet wasn't in bad weather. I'll remember it, but I wish I wasn't so soaked."
By the time Latham lined up for the 300 hurdles, his last event, the rain had stopped. He attacked from start to finish.
"I was the second seed, so I had to really push it," Latham said. "I came out strong and finished strong."
"That was the event that he really wanted to prove himself," Fitch coach Rich Kosta said. "He did win it easily."
Fitch tied for third overall with Ridgefield at 31 points. Darien took first with 65 points and Windsor second at 42.
Darien also won the girls' title, scoring 43.75 points to edge Staples (42). NFA was the top local finisher, placing 13th with 17.75 points.
Sebastian, who's headed to St. John's in the fall, blocked out the bad weather and focused on following her game plan in the 100 hurdles. She won comfortably, finishing in 14.73 seconds.
"Two times is definitely an accomplishment," said Sebastian of repeating. "I'm really proud. Being seeded first is definitely a lot of pressure, but I just tried not to let it get to me."
NFA's Taylor Driggers qualified for Saturday's New England Championships in two events, placing fourth in the triple jump (35-9 1/2) and fifth in the long jump (17-2 1/4).
In the boys' competition, Waterford's Julio Gil-Martinez tied for second in the 200 (22.61) and Ledyard's Joe Carter was fourth (22.75).
Old Lyme's Jared Stanland took third in the discus (159-2) and Fitch's Brian Robinson was fourth (155-7).
Stanland, a junior, improved significantly over last year's State Open performaance.
"It was a good throw but the conditions were pretty bad for throwing," Old Lyme coach Aron D'Aquila said. "He's happy to be going to the New Englands. He wanted to hit 170. He always keeps high expectations."