Michigan Knocks Off Arkansas in DMR

PHILADELPHIA -- Arkansas senior James Hatch picked a great time to snap out of his funk, but it still wasn't enough for the Razorbacks to overcome their blue and gold nemesis from Michigan.

The Hogs weren't able to defend their title in the distance medley relay at the 111th Penn Relays thanks to a couple mistakes and a 3 minute, 55 second anchor leg on the 1,600-meter portion by Michigan's Olympic 1,500 finalist Nick Willis.

The Wolverines won in 9:22.57, the eighth-fastest ever at Penn, and Arkansas' team of Adam Perkins, Terry Gatson, Hatch and Said Ahmed was second in 9:28.79.

Usual contenders Georgetown (9:34.93) and Villanova (9:34.98) finished well back in fourth and fifth despite sub-3:58 times from their anchor legs.

"Our kids went out and gave it everything they had," said Arkansas coach John McDonnell. "We were beaten by a better team. There's no doubt about that. But there were some good teams way back. I thought it was going to be tough to beat (Michigan). When you're playing catch-up, what happened (Friday) is usually what happens."

At Franklin Field today, Arkansas will send four relays to the line and Jaanus Uudmae and Eric Brown in the triple jump and javelin, respectively.

Hatch was a surprise runner-up at the NCAA indoor 800 to help spur the team win, but he's struggled to live up to his lifetime best 1:47.4 he clocked in that race since the outdoor season began.

He ran 1:55 and 2:00 splits on 800 legs at the Texas Relays and still hasn't hit the Mideast Regional standard of 1:50.4 yet.

Hatch put all of that behind him Friday after getting the baton secured when he and Gatson misfired on the exchange after Gatson got Arkansas in the race with a nice 45.5 split on the 400.

Once he got going, Hatch clocked a 1:47.8 split, easily his best race of the outdoor season.

"With that race, I felt nice and relaxed until the last 50 meters," Hatch said. "I feel good and ready to go (today). Something was wrong with me. I guess I had kind of a mental letdown from indoors.

"If you can't get excited around here, you're dead."

The Razorbacks defeated the Wolverines at the NCAA Indoor Championships last month only to have officials disqualify their team on a ruling that Ahmed impeded Willis at the finish line as they broke for the tape.

That controversial decision spurred the Razorbacks to their 40th NCAA title under McDonnell, but there was no impeding Willis this time for Ahmed, who had to run a 55-second opening lap just to narrow the gap to less than a meter.

Ahmed ran a very satisfactory 4:00 split for his anchor leg but couldn't match Willis, who overtook former Arkansas great Alistair Cragg in 2003 to upset the Razorbacks in the same event.

"A bad exchange on the 400 to the 800 cost us," McDonnell said. "Said had to run fast to catch up to Willis, and that's not the way you want it.

"It was nice to see James snap out of it. Terry, as usual, ran a great leg. He almost closed it down. When you're running against a great team, you cannot give them an edge."

Arkansas shuffled its lineups a bit in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays but still came away with qualifiers for today's finals with easy heat victories.

Michael Grant led off for Arkansas in the 4x100, passing to Tyson Gay with sophomore Creighton Kiper third and Wallace Spearmon Jr. on anchor for the first time since the finals of the event last year at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Austin when the Razorbacks took fifth.

Unchallenged, Spearmon cruised across the line in 40.2, an improvement from their 40.23 last week at the McDonnell Invitational and the fourth-fastest qualifier behind LSU (39.5), Florida (39.78) and Tennessee (39.91).

The 4x200 had Omar Brown on the leadoff and despite a bad handoff, second leg Gay gave Arkansas a sizable lead on the curve before passing to Arkansas indoor 400-meters record holder Gatson.

Gatson widened the lead on the backstretch and Spearmon was able to stay well within himself to anchor the heat win in 1:22.33.

Sprints coach Lance Brauman said he'll have a deep relay pool to draw from with Spearmon, Gay and Brown likely on both with the other spot to be filled by either Gatson, Grant or Kiper, who was feeling a little sore after the 100 prelims.

"We haven't really worked that order much," Brauman said of the 4x100. "It wasn't bad, but it can get better. The 4x2, we botched a couple, so we can run faster than that. We're going to have to if we want to win (today). That's the one we're really shooting for."

Arkansas will run the 4x100 today at 12:30 p.m. followed by the 4x200 at 1:50.

The 4x200 will be the race Arkansas is truly gunning for with its sights set on the collegiate record of 1:19.67 held by TCU. The Razorbacks haven't won the 4x200 since 1985 when Spearmon's father was on the team.

Anchored by his Spearmon Jr., the Razorbacks were the runner-up in the 4x200 last season to defending champion and favored Mississippi State.

The 4x1,500 team of Josphat Boit, Peter Kosgei, Perkins and Ahmed will run at noon. Arkansas has won the 4x1,500 a whopping 18 times at Penn and each of the last three years.

The 4x800 team will have Hatch, Harun Iman, Brian Roe and likely Ahmed in the race at 3:20 p.m., which is during the window NBC will be broadcasting live from Franklin Field today.

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