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Orta caps UK highlight reel with SEC title in 5,000 meters

Teammate Stephanie Strasser cheered on Florida's Shelby Hayes during the women's  distance medley relay Sunday.  Florida finished third in the finals, and  Tennessee set a Field House record in 11:16.71.
Teammate Stephanie Strasser cheered on Florida's Shelby Hayes during the women's distance medley relay Sunday. Florida finished third in the finals, and Tennessee set a Field House record in 11:16.71. ©2012 Herald-Leader

Thank heavens for Luis Orta.

The distance runner from Venezuela followed Saturday's victory in the 3,000-meter run with a win in Sunday's 5,000, easily Kentucky's brightest moments in the Southeastern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships.

As Orta again gave the Nutter Field House crowd plenty to cheer about, top-ranked Arkansas knocked off two-time defending champion and No. 2-ranked Florida for the men's team title, 151-137. UK placed eighth.

The sixth-ranked Florida women scored 132 points to upend defending champion and second-ranked LSU (109) and No. 4 Arkansas (99). UK took last in the 12-team field.

Orta, a 5-foot-4, 118-pounder, finished the 5,000 in 14 minutes, 9.34 seconds.

Just as he had in Saturday's 3,000, he passed Arkansas senior Lane Boyer for the win.

This time, though, Orta didn't need a dramatic come-from-behind kick.

He ran comfortably off the pace, in fourth place through the first half of the race, then jockeyed to position himself for a final move.

Coming into the homestretch for the bell lap, Orta made his pass and took off.

"I was waiting 16 laps to do that," Orta said. "So I waited 16 laps and, last lap, I had to do it and I went."

Boyer held on for second in 14:13.76.

UK's Walter Luttrell, 17th in the early going, rallied to place third. However, he was disqualified for making a pass inside the oval.

"The pace was fast but not too fast, so I was like 'OK, I'm feeling good here. Just stick to Blane. Stay behind him, stay behind him,'" Orta said. "Then, with two laps to go, I was like 'OK, wait for the lap bell,' and I waited for it and just went. I felt super-good, super-strong, and he didn't have the energy to go with me."

The race was Orta's last home meet indoors. Although his eligibility is a junior outdoors, he is a senior indoors.

He savored his win by again leading his teammates in cheers, then took an abbreviated victory lap — just far enough to salute the fans in the small grandstand area.

"It's awesome," Orta said. "First, I love UK with all my heart. I'm a Kentucky Wildcat since the day I got here until the day I die."

Orta tied Mississippi's Ricky Robertson for the Cliff Harper (high points) Trophy, scoring 20 points. Robertson won the high jump, and placed fourth in both the long jump and triple jump.

UK's next-best finish came from its fourth-place distance medley relay of Matt Hillenbrand, Trent Halasek, Sean Keane and Adam Kahleifeh. Halasek also took seventh in the mile.

The Arkansas men won for the 18th time in 21 years. The 18 titles ties Tennessee for the SEC all-time lead.

Fresham Andrew Irwin kick-started the win by becoming the Razorbacks' first-ever champion in the pole vault.

Arkansas also picked up wins from Marek Niit in the 200 and Patrick Rono in the mile. Rono also anchored the Hogs' first-place distance medley relay.

Florida senior Kemal Mesic won the shot put for the third year in a row. Teammates Eddie Lovett, in the 60-meter hurdles, and Omar Craddock, in the triple jump, also won. Lovett also won in 2011.

However, the Gators lost crucial points in the 400 and 60.

Tony McQuay crossed the finish line first in the 400, but was disqualified for impeding Georgia's Torrin Lawrence. That bumped Lawrence up to first place and cost the Gators 10 points.

Florida also was counting on 10 points in the 60, where Jeff Demps was defending meet and two-time NCAA champion. Demps scored only six, though, trailing Auburn's Harry Adams and Mississippi's Michael Granger.

The Gators did win their seventh title, though. That ranks second to LSU's 10.

Florence Ngetich and Genevieve LaCaze gave Florida 1-2 in the 5,000.

Another 21 points came from a 2-3-5-6 finish in the mile (behind a meet-record 4:34.49 by Arkansas senior Kristen Gillespie).

LSU stayed close with wins by Kimberlyn Duncan in the 200, Rebecca Alexander in the 400, Charlene Lipsey in the 800, Jasmin Stowers in the hurdles, and its 4-by-400 relay. Duncan and Stowers were repeat winners.

Gillespie won the women's Cliff Harper Trophy, scoring 22 points with wins in the mile and 3,000, and anchoring the Razorbacks' second-place distance medley relay.

Tennessee won the distance medley relay for the sixth year in a row and eighth time in nine years.

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