LSU men’s track and field team poised to make run at national title Friday _lowres

LSU's Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, right, is the leader of a group of solid sprinters for the Tigers heading into the 2017 season (AP Photo/Ryan Kang).

EUGENE, Ore. — Going into the NCAA track and field semifinals and finals, LSU coach Dennis Shaver predicted the top three or four teams in the men’s race would be separated by single digits.

After Wednesday’s semifinals, it looks like it could work out that way.

He’ll find out for sure Friday night when the top five teams in the final U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association power rankings meet at Hayward Field to close out the NCAA men’s championships.

While No. 1 Texas A&M severely damaged its hopes in Wednesday’s semifinals, losing at least four entrants who were expected to score, fourth-ranked LSU set the table well along with No. 2 Florida, third-ranked Oregon and No. 5 Arkansas — which had the most scoring chances in the meet.

After the completion of the decathlon Thursday, Oregon had 19 points, while Texas A&M had 18, Arkansas 16 and Florida 10. LSU had yet to score.

But LSU will have ample scoring opportunities Friday night after advancing eight of their 10 entrants — all on the track — Wednesday.

Arkansas and Florida will also have eight each, while Texas A&M has seven and Oregon six — which could mean a tight finish.

The Tigers are hoping their quality in the eight events they’re in will carry them to their first NCAA outdoor title since they won in Baton Rouge in 2002.

The 4x100- and 4x400-meter relay teams have the fastest times in the country this spring, while Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and Renard Howell ranked first and third in the 200.

In addition, Michael Cherry and Fitzroy Dunkley recorded the third- and eight-fastest times in the country in the 400. But the two athletes who had faster times than Cherry and five of the other six ahead of him on the list failed to advance.

Mitchell-Blake also has the potential to score big points in the 100 after ranking in the top five in that event all season.

“They’re a confident group … we’ve seen it all season long,” Shaver said of his team. “We look forward to seeing what they can achieve here Friday.”

Long streak

The LSU men finished fourth last season for the second consecutive time, extending a lengthy streak of top-10 finishes for Shaver’s team.

The Tigers scored 45 points to climb the awards stand and claim one of the trophies awarded to the top four schools in the final team standings.

LSU will likely extend the longest streak in the nation of top-10 finishes Friday night, having done that 18 years in a row since 1998.

The Tigers have also been in the top five in 14 of the past 16 seasons — a run which includes four runner-up finishes (2006, 2007, 2008 and 2012) under Shaver.

Leleux ties for second

Louisiana-Lafayette pole vaulter Morgann Leleux picked up another All-American certificate in her final NCAA competition Thursday night.

Leleux, the runner-up at the NCAA indoor and outdoor meets as a freshman at Georgia in 2012, tied for second with a clearance of 14 feet, 1¼ inches on a chilly evening.

She easily cleared on her first attempt at 13-9¼ to take the early lead and also made her first try at 14-1¼ before passing at the next height. She bowed out with three misses at 14-5¼.

A New Iberia native, Leleux was a five-time All-American at Georgia before transferring to UL-Lafayette for her final outdoor season.

Leleux is the first women’s All-American for UL-Lafayette since 2012 and joins Michael Vani (2014), Chris Roy (2010, 2012) and current Ragin’ Cajuns coach Lon Badeaux (1996) as All-Americans in the pole vault.

Blocker gets to final

Tulane senior Jasmine Blocker earned a spot in Saturday’s final of the 400 meters when she finished second in her semifinal heat Thursday night.

Blocker closed strong in the home stretch and slipped into the second spot with a time of 52.89 seconds to claim one of the two automatic spots in her heat for the final.