It all came down to an excruciating finish.

But Mackenzie Hagerman, a seventh-grader at Hays Middle School, was declared the champion of Ellis County’s 62nd annual spelling bee Tuesday night. Only two students remained after nine rounds of competition, and Hagerman spelled the word “excruciating” for the win.

“I’m just really surprised and happy that I won,” she said of her first county spelling bee experience.

Hagerman now will go on to represent the county at a statewide spelling competition later this spring. Runner-up Carson Brooksher, an eighth-grader at Hays Middle School, will be a substitute if she is unable to attend.

Brooksher performed well at the annual event, but came in second after missing the word “hallucinations.” It was also his first time to compete at the county level, and he said spelling always has been a natural talent.

“There were a couple I didn’t know,” Brooksher said of words given at the annual spelling bee. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to spell that.’ ”

Several of the words at the spelling bee for elementary and junior high students were noticeably difficult, prompting many spellers to request definitions and sentences. Missed words throughout the event included “lariat,” “lading,” “tarragon” and “serrated.”

“I bet your parents and families are glad they aren’t the ones up here spelling these words,” moderator Brenda Meder joked during a pause about halfway through the contest. “I’m glad I have the paper with the words written on it.”

The contest is sponsored by the Fort Hays State University chapter of National Student Speech-Language Hearing Association.

A total of 35 students competed in the spelling bee, representing Hays and Ellis public and Catholic schools. The oldest students competing were eighth-graders, with a few students as young as third grade also qualifying for the challenge.

Among the younger students was Jocelyn Eck, a third-grader at St. Mary’s Grade School in Ellis who placed second at her school contest. She competed alongside her older cousin, Journey Eck, who attends Ellis Junior/Senior High School.

Jocelyn Eck said she likes spelling and it was her first time to compete in a spelling bee. But both cousins agreed some of the words were challenging.

“I had no clue what tarragon was,” Journey Eck said with a laugh.