CROWN POINT | Crown Point's Isreal Mercado was determined not to lose his last sectional.
"My freshman year we lost it because I dropped the baton (in the 1.,600-meter relay)," Mercado said. "I looked in my brother's eyes and said, ‘I got to get this for him.'"
Racing in the pivotal final relay that would decide this year's sectional champion, Mercado took the baton with the Bulldogs in fourth place. He was tripped twice during his run around the track, once at the beginning and once near the end, but he still managed to pass the baton off to anchor Zack Sneiderwine with Crown Point in second.
The second-place finish sealed the 'Dogs' first boys track and field sectional championship since 2007, besting last year's champion, Hobart, 117-110. Merrillville finished third with 85 points and Andrean rounded out the top four with 77 points.
"It meant so much to me," Mercado said. "It made me feel good that we brought one home for the team."
Hobart coach Ty Artherhults understood that another championship was by no means a given for this year's squad. However, after 11 of 16 events, Hobart still retained a five-point lead over Crown Point.
"We knew between Crown Point, Andrean and us, it was going to be a tight race," Artherhults said. "This meet was much closer than what most people thought it was going to be."
Crown Point overtook Hobart in the standings after Travis Kucic won the 800 for the Bulldogs. Before Kucic's race, freshman teammate Tristan Peterson dove across the finish line, chest first, to win the 300 hurdles.
"I saw Tristan take that fall and I started feeling a tingling," Kucic said. "It was a huge adrenaline boost. I knew I had to use that adrenaline to win."
Peterson said he was in "real pain" after the fall, but was willing to do it all over again if it meant a victory.
"I was losing balance, so I figured if I was going down, I wanted to finish first. I would've been upset if I got second."
Crown Point coach Keith Iddings believed determination like that across the board from every runner led the team to the championship, noting that "tonight, every point was going to count.
"It was a huge plus that they won it as a team," Iddings said. "To finish it off with a sectional championship was terrific."
Being hugged from friends and family members after the 1,600 relay, Mercado savored the sweet taste of victory.
"It felt so good," he said. "It felt really good to win."