Moon’s Jacob Puhalla defends McKinney Mile title in Baldwin Invite’s marquee race

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Saturday, May 6, 2023 | 12:55 PM


Once Jacob Puhalla wins a track title, the Moon runner likes to win it again.

The senior emerged Friday from a crowded field in the McKinney Mile to win the marquee event at the Baldwin Invitational for a second year in a row. The race included five runners already committed to Division I colleges, and Puhalla, a Louisville recruit, pulled ahead on the last lap.

“You always feel a little bit of pride when you win,” Puhalla said. “Otherwise, why win?”

He received a medal, a plaque and a handshake from Chuck McKinney, the race’s namesake.

Puhalla is best known for the 800 meters, an event he’s won two years in a row at WPIALs. But he showed his overall strength again Friday with a strong push in the closing lap of the mile.

“The second and third laps, I kind of fell behind,” he said. “It just felt kind of fast for me for some reason. I was like, ‘All right, I’ve got to at least stick with them.’ And then, since I’m with them, I might as well go for it all on my last lap.”

Puhalla took the lead with about 200 meters left — or an eighth of a mile — and finished in 4 minutes, 15.64 seconds. Cathedral Prep’s Luke Brown and Peters Township’s Brett Kroboth both finished less than a second behind him. Brown is a George Mason recruit, and Kroboth is headed to Penn State.

“It was definitely a stacked field,” Puhalla said. “Going into it, I knew it would be a challenge. I took some punches but managed to stick with it. ”

The mile isn’t a standard distance for high school track meets nowadays. The near-equivalent is the 1,600 meters, which is about 30 feet shorter than a mile.

However, the race is a staple for the Baldwin Invitational, which named the event after McKinney, the school’s retired track coach, who started the meet in 1974. Kiski Area’s Eliza Miller won the girls race in 5:00.57.

Puhalla’s winning time this year was about four seconds faster than a year ago, but this isn’t necessarily his distance of choice. He’s a two-time reigning WPIAL champion in the 800 meters.

Yes, once he wins, he wins again.

That’s causing him some angst ahead of the WPIAL championship May 17. He hopes to become a three-time WPIAL winner in the 800 meters, but the 1,600 is tempting him, too. Running both is possible but physically taxing, especially since he plans to run legs on two relays.

“It’s always more fun when you have a relay team with you (at states),” Puhalla said. “I might be running the 1,600. I don’t know. We’ll see. There are so many questions. It’s just such a big workload, but I might do it. It’s my senior year.”

Puhalla owns the third-fastest 800 time in the state this season at 1 minute, 53.11 seconds. He didn’t run the 800 at Baldwin on Friday, choosing to compete only in the mile.

He was fairly certain he’ll run the 800 at WPIALs.

“I really want to defend that title, just because I’ve won it the last two years,” Puhalla said. “I think it would be really cool. Sophomore year I said, ‘I want to be a three-time champion.’”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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