EUGENE, Ore. — The LSU men’s track team didn’t have an opportunity to score any points in the semifinals of the NCAA championships on Wednesday, but it was still a productive day for the Tigers.
While top-ranked Texas A&M had several damaging hiccups, No. 4 LSU did what it was supposed to do in advancing eight of the 10 entrants it sent to the starting line at Hayward Field.
After setting the table in the semifinals, the Tigers will try to make a run at the school’s first NCAA men’s outdoor title in 14 years in the finals on Friday night after the women’s semifinals are contested Thursday.
The LSU men started and ended the day with heat wins in the 4x100- and 4x400-meter relays to automatically advance and in between those added six more qualifiers for the finals.
“Our guys came into this meet knowing they needed to go out and get it done from the first gun to the last,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “All that does is set us up to have a potentially big day Friday. They still have to go out there and perform.”
They do, but they did it Wednesday from start to finish.
The 4x100 relay team of Jaron Flournoy, Renard Howell, Tinashe Mutanga and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake clocked a time of 38.73 seconds to win the second heat after Texas A&M dropped the baton in the first semifinal.
A&M took another hit when Chase Wolfe, who tied for the second-highest mark in the country this spring at 18 feet, 6½ inches, no-heighted while trying to clear at 17-4½. He was one of three Aggies who failed to make a bar.
Texas A&M’s Will Williams, who was projected to score in the long jump, didn’t make the final and Fred Kerley, the national leader in the 400 coming into the meet, failed to advance to the final.
Meanwhile, Mitchell-Blake led LSU by securing two more spots in the finals with heat wins in the 100 and 200 meters. He won his heat of the 100 in 10.09 seconds and came back for a heat win in the 200 at 20.17 — the fastest time of the day.
Mitchell-Blake was busy, running all three races in a span of about 2 hours, 15 minutes.
“After the first warmup, you just try to stay ready by doing some buildups on the warmup track,” Mitchell-Blake said. “But it wasn’t that bad because all the sprinters have to do it. The SECs prepped us well for this, so it was just going out and giving it my best effort.”
Mitchell-Blake was joined in the 200 final by Howell, who ran third in the same heat as his teammate. Howell clocked a 20.56 and earned one of two spots for the final based on time.
Mitchell-Blake’s run to the 100 final came just after Jordan Moore won his heat in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 13.57 to set up a flurry of qualifiers for the Tigers.
Michael Cherry and Fitzroy Dunkley then raced to a 1-2 finish in their semifinal heat of the 400 meters.
Cherry and Dunkley, running two lanes apart, strolled to the finish line in 45.27 and 45.35 seconds, respectively, knowing they had earned the automatic spots in the final from their heat. Cherry’s time was the third-fastest of the day.
Then, after Mitchell-Blake and Howell got to the 200 final, Cherry and Dunkley came back nearly two hours later to help the Tigers wrap up their big evening on the track.
LaMar Bruton, Cherry, Cyril Grayson and Dunkley won their heat of the 4x400 in 3 minutes, 03.72 seconds. Cherry ran a solid 44.97-second split and Dunkley ran a 44.80 to finish it off.
“We might not have the numbers here like some of the other top teams, but our quality really showed today,” Shaver said. “We came in needing to hit on most of our qualifiers, and that’s what we did. You have to credit our guys for going out and doing what they needed to do today to give us a chance.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.