The Hannibal girls cross country team defended its own turf Saturday morning during the Frank Lemons Invitational at American Legion Golf Course.

The Hannibal girls cross country team defended its own turf Saturday morning by winning the Frank Lemons Invitational at American Legion Golf Course.

All of Hannibal's runners finished among the top 20 in a field of 57, with three placing seventh or higher. 

Claudia Nichols paced the Lady Pirates with a fourth-place effort of 22:45. Alayna Pipkin crossed in 22:58 for fifth, while Autumn Bigsby placed seventh with a time of 23:22. 

“Claudia was in front of me, and that was really pushing me to go farther,” Pipkin said. “I knew Autumn was right with me in the back and she was coming up. We had to stay in the front because we wanted to get first.”

With 31 team points, Hannibal held an edge in the final standings over runner-up Moberly (40) and third-place Clark County (80).

Kyleigh Gibbs completed the hilly course in 24:15 for 13th place. Following Gibbs for Hannibal were Elle Hudelson (24:26, 15th), Ruby Roisum (24:51, 17th) and Alexia Gonzalez (25:06, 20th).

“Our top three, they're as good as we've had in a long time,” Hannibal coach Charlie Newland said of his squad. “And the (rest) are pushing also and improving a lot.”

Pipkin mentioned Nichols serves as a leader for the team even as a sophomore.

“She has increased so much throughout the year,” Pipkin said of Nichols. “Her freshman year, she was really good then, and she's gotten so much better. I'm just really happy for her.” 

Freshman Emma Jo Ross (26:43, 25th) and Zoe Miller (27:14, 28th) led Mark Twain in the girls race. 

“They've been strong competitors for us this season,” Mark Twain coach Erin Mack said. “This is probably one of the toughest courses that we've seen. We ran good, but not to the point where they're used to finishing. They keep getting better and better, and that's what we want.”

Leading the way for Marion County were Payton Hays (28:33, 36th) and Makenzie Crook (28:44, 39th). 

Hannibal senior Ayden Nichols challenged Fulton's Mason Gaines in the boys race, trailing by one pace halfway through. Gaines pulled away on the second loop and won the individual title with a time of 17:16, while Nichols came in second at 17:48. 

“This wasn't my strongest race,” Nichols said. “My stronger races are coming. This was a good race, but I can do better. My hats off to (Gaines) today. He had a good race and ran the hills well.”

Mark Twain senior Devin Neff finished third with a time of 18:08.

“We're at that point in the season where you want to excel and see differences in time,” Mack said. “We knew the competition was going to be tough with a lot of bigger schools there. Our goal was for (Neff) to stay with those two top runners as long as he could and maintain his pace with them and see where he finishes.” 

Carter Munch (19:48, 16th) and John Fritch (20:35, 20th) both ran for the Pirates, who didn't have enough competitors to qualify for the team standings.

Carson Bock turned in Marion County's best finish of 22:11 for 41st overall.