IF TORI GERLACH, a senior distance runner from Pennridge, is in the mix to overtake an opponent coming down the final stretch, watch out. She knows how to dig deep.

Last spring, at the PIAA outdoor track and field championships, Gerlach kicked into high gear over the final 100-meter stretch to best Pennsbury's Sara Sargent, the state recordholder, for the 3,200-meter title.

Thursday at the Penn Relays, Gerlach again dipped into her reserve of fortitude to come up big in a premiere race. With mere meters to go, she clocked in at 9 minutes, 42.92 seconds to place second in the girls' 3,000-meter championship race in Franklin Field.

On the final lap's first turn, Gerlach sat in fourth. On the back stretch of that lap, she pulled into third. It wasn't until the final turn that she revved it up again to prevail over Lake Braddock's Hannah Christen (Burke, Va.) by .05 seconds.

Her time is the fastest by a Pennsylvania girl in the event this season. Gerlach was seeded ninth among 25 runners.

"I know it has to come down to guts," Gerlach said after the race. "In my training, I really focus on the last part of my workout to really go hard, and I think that's what really helps me in these races, to kick like that."

The finish improved on Gerlach's fourth-place showing in last year's event at the carnival, though she clocked in more than 2 seconds slower than her personal record of 9:40.42 registered in that race.

"I was seeded ninth, so it's great, I think, to do it like that," the Penn State-bound runner said. "I don't think I had a bad race, just think I need to train some more."

Sophie Chase, also of Lake Braddock, won the race in 9:37.86. North Penn's Meghan McGovern was fifth (9:46.30).

The race featured runners from eight states and one from Canada.

"Just to make it here is amazing. The experience is amazing," Gerlach said. "It's just amazing to look around, all these people, everyone's cheering for you. I feel like this is more than nationals. This is an amazing race."

Survive and advance

Three area girls' teams qualified for Friday's 4x800 Championship of America.

Strath Haven, Downingtown East and West Chester Henderson advanced from the preliminary field of 72 to the 12-team final. Strath Haven's time of 9:15.92 was good for fifth overall. East (9:19.07) and Henderson (9:20.97) were eighth and 11th, respectively.