Westover star distance runner Ericka Taylor, center, runs second behind Marist’s Morgan Ilse during the 3.200-meter final Thursday at Hugh Mills. Taylor ran with Ilse, the eventual winner, for most of the race before fading late and finishing 5th. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)

Westover star distance runner Ericka Taylor, center, runs second behind Marist’s Morgan Ilse during the 3.200-meter final Thursday at Hugh Mills. Taylor ran with Ilse, the eventual winner, for most of the race before fading late and finishing 5th. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)

ALBANY — It ended in tears, pain and with Ericka Taylor collapsing after crossing the finish line.

That’s the way Westover’s Taylor, the top distance runner in Southwest Georgia, finished her final run at the 3,200 meters on Thursday night. Taylor ran her best time of the year, but she simply ran out of gas on the final lap of the Class AAAA finals at Hugh Mills, dropping from second to fifth on a night when all she wanted to do was win.

“She had the courage to go for the win, and she just ran out of gas at the end. She just didn’t have anything left. But you can’t fault her for trying to win it,’’ said Westover A.D. Harley Calhoun, who has coached Taylor for the last four years at WHS, where she has emerged as the best in this part of the state. “She went for it.’’

Taylor knew Marist’s Morgan Ilse was the favorite and ran arm-and-arm with Ilse for four laps before falling off the pace. Still, she was all alone in second place until the final 100 meters of the two-mile race.

“I didn’t know she was that fast,’’ Taylor said of Ilse. “I was staying with her, but she just got faster and faster. After the first laps, you usually slow down to get a comfortable pace, but I guess she wasn’t comfortable. She just got faster. I thought I could stay with her.’’

In the end, the pace was too much for Taylor, who still ran her fastest time of this spring (11:40).

“She just got away,’’ Taylor said. “I thought I was going to finish second. I thought I had a big enough lead (on everyone else), but with about 200 meters left before the last lap my legs just couldn’t go any faster. I kept hearing the crowd shouting, ‘Come On, Ericka!’ but I just couldn’t go any faster.’’

Then came the final lap.

“I thought I had a big enough lead (on the final lap), but at the end everything hurt really bad. I had nothing left and my legs were hurting,’’ Taylor said.

The final 100 meters were brutal, she added.

“It was everything,’’ Taylor said of her emotions. “I was feeling everything. I was frustrated. I was mad. I was sad. It was everything all at once. Finally, I couldn’t hold it in any more, and I just started crying. I had to let it go. I had to get that release, and I just started crying. At that point, I couldn’t even feel my legs.’’

Taylor will regroup and make a run at the title in the 1,600 meters tonight back at Hugh Mills, where the three-day GHSA girls State Track & Field Championships continue.

The running prelims were held on Thursday, and the only finals were in the 3,200.

“That girl from Marist is one of the best in Georgia,’’ Calhoun said. “And (Ericka) went after her. She could have just tried to finish in the top six, but she wanted to win and gave it everything she had. She tried to run with her.’’

Terrell County and Baconton Charter had two girls each in the Class A 3,200 finals.

Terrell’s Tynesha Bailey was ninth and Terrell’s Destiny Mitchell finished 12th in the race. Baconton’s Lauren Swanson finished 10th and Baconton’s Abigail Finn was 12th.