BRISTOL - Jose Ramirez rises to any challenge thrown his way.
That’s the sentiment bestowed upon the Bristol Central junior track runner by his head coach Tamara Stafford-Kirk.
So on Tuesday evening, in a battle between city rivals, when Bristol Eastern’s Joe Hardin looked like he was in control of an intense 400-meter race between himself and Ramirez, Stafford-Kirk was never worried.
Not even when Hardin was well ahead of Ramirez after 100 meters ... and again after 200 meters ... and again after 300 and even 350 meters.
Despite trailing nearly the entire race, as soon as Ramirez hit the final 100-meter push, he knew the race was his.
“As soon as that straightaway happened, I was like, ‘I got him,’” Ramirez said. “I just felt it. You just feel it, ya know?”
What Ramirez felt was the pulse of a heavy throng of Central and Eastern supporters roaring and teammates swarming the edge of the infield grass as he and Hardin were locked in a nearly dead heat. It was Ramirez who had the final kick, exploding ahead in the final 50 meters to win a thrilling sprint and setting a school record in the process with a finish of 49.50 seconds, beating out Hardin (50.2 seconds) by a hair.
The wild finish between Ramirez and Hardin provided the highlight of the day in the rivalry matchup, as Bristol Central defeated Eastern, 110-39, and the Central girls took down Eastern, 108-42.
“I’ve been working on my starts. Usually, my starts are pretty sloppy, and I just had a really good start. That’s it,” Ramirez said. “Joey broke the stagger a little bit before the 100 meter so as soon as he did that, I just stayed with him and then I just gave it all I had down the last straightaway.
“That was honestly just heart. Me and Joey are friends and stuff. We have that competitive rivalry, but that was just my competitive side, I guess. I had more to give so I just gave it all I could, ya know? My goal today, honestly, was to get 49. I got 49.5 so I was definitely satisfied. ... I knew I had competition, and I just wanted to win, really. I don’t run to lose. I wanna win.”
Added Stafford-Kirk: “With Jose’s [1-minute, 54-second] 800-meter time, I said, ‘There’s no reason you shouldn’t be under 50 in the 400.’ So it just took the right race and the right atmosphere for him to do it. That was really cool. ... It’s a nice rivalry, especially with Joe. [They’re both juniors] so there’s gonna be another year of them duking it out in indoor and outdoor. It’ll be exciting. Hopefully they’ll see each other next week in the CCC South meet.”
It was still a strong showing for Hardin, who has been battling back from shin splints he suffered during the indoor season.
“Joe’s been running really well. He’s been injured most of the year,” Lancers head coach Kyle Fuller said. “He ran well at the Middletown Invitational. I think he was fourth overall so today he ran well. He ran a little faster today than he ran at Middletown so that was good. They usually have a good rivalry, Jose and Joe. They’ve been racing each other for a couple years now. It’s good watching the two of them mature together and race each other.
“You can see where Joe’s finishing speed, we’re still working on that. Joe had a great first 350 and then here comes Jose. Jose has a great kick. We’re still developing Joe’s kick.”
Another highlight on the boys side was the performance of the Rams’ Jose Navedo, who took first place in the 110-meter hurdles and 300-meter hurdles, third place in the pole vault and helped the 4x100-meter relay team to a first-place finish.
The Rams also received first-place finishes from the 4x800 relay, and they swept the 800, 1,600 and 3,200-meter races in addition to sweeping the long jump.
“My distance guys looked really strong. We qualified a bunch of them for the conference meet and the Class L [state meet] so we’re excited for those races coming up,” Stafford-Kirk said. “Jose Navedo looked great in both hurdles and helping out in the 4x100 and the pole vault. We can move him around to different events. My other captain, Hunter Peterson, has been jumping really well in high, long and triple.”
Added Fuller: “We know they’ve got some of the best distance kids in the state. We know that. We watched these kids grow up. They’re a really good distance team. Even with their 400, then you go to the 8, the mile and the two-mile, you can’t touch them. And you can’t touch them in the 4x8. They’re that good.”
The Central girls had a terrific day, which featured a sweep in six events:
In the 100 high hurdles, Emma Strong, Christine Attle and Jadyn Bauer took first, second and third. In the 1,600, it was Natalie Dube, Alexandra Sirko and Marisa Heller as the top three. In the 400, Abigail Calfe, Adalia Malick and Sofia Veronsei finished 1-2-3. In the 800, Salvatrice Bosco, Alexa Furniss and Natalia Popielarz finished in the top three. In the 3,200-meter race, Sirko, Dube and Heller went 1-2-3. And in the long jump, Abigail Calfe, Erin Petke and Gabriella Calfe finished in the top three.
“It’s always a good meet,” Rams head coach Kiara Bonilla-Jusino said. “Eastern had beat Middletown earlier in the season, and we only beat Middletown by two points so with that, we definitely had more of a strategic plan going into this meet. The girls knew what they had to do, and they did it. We had girls sweeping events. We swept six events. I think they were ready.
“We like to represent in Bristol. Like any rivalry city meet, you wanna compete at your best, and a lot of the kids, it’s their last meet and last chance to qualify for conference or state so I think that’s a little bit more incentive for them.”
The Lancers, meanwhile, are continuing to improve with a young team.
“I thought we did OK today,” Lancers head coach Tony Floyd said. “We had some good performances. I thought they did a pretty good job competing. It was a good meet. They were very good in their middle distance and distance. They performed very well there, and they performed very well in the sprints. And I thought we did pretty good in the throwing events. Those kids did a good job.”
For the Rams, taking the crown in the matchup between city rivals was an accomplishment that left them smiling.
“Honestly, it means a great deal,” Ramirez said. “You just bleed it. You bleed maroon. It’s a good rivalry, though. It’s not like this bitter hatred between each other. Same town, same city. But we all push each other. We’re all here to run our best times and throw our best throws.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or