CALUMET TWP. | At some point, it became difficult to keep track of sectional championships in wrestling.
"I didn't even know how many we had in a row," Merrillville coach David Maldonado said. "But anytime you come away with a win in a sectional, it's always a good thing."
That good thing happened for the seventh straight time in Maldonado's nine years at the helm in Merrillville on Saturday at the Calumet Sectional.
The victory for The Times No. 2 Pirates came behind six first-place finishes and 258.5 total points.
"I'm happy that I won, but I'm so happy that I had so many teammates in the finals," Michael Garza said.
Garza, a freshman, won the 103 class by beating Nate Reitz, also a freshman, of Griffith in the final. The two have been wrestling each other for years.
"I remember when we were 5-years-old, scrapping it up in tournaments," Garza said. "He would get me, I would get him. But I just got him this time."
At 119, Adam Garcia got another first for Merrillville with a win over Calumet's Jose Rodriguez.
"I needed that win," Garcia said. "It was a real confidence booster."
Garcia's been shifting weight classes all season and said he needed a win to know he could compete.
In perhaps the most anticipated match of the day, Hobart's Joe Peco got a rematch with River Forest's Mike Manning at 171. Manning got the best of Peco two weeks prior at the Lake County meet.
Peco came out on top this time 4-1.
"My coaches and I, we watched a lot of tape (of Manning) to see what I would have to do to come out a sectional champion," Peco said. "I tried to wear him out, because I knew I would last longer."
Manning (34-1) felt like he could've earned two points in the second period, but still took his first loss of the season.
"He's a good wrestler, and I knew he was one of the better guys in this area," Manning said. "We have a little rivalry and it'll be fun to fight for a better seed at semistate."
The top four individuals in each weight class move on to the Feb. 5 Calumet regional. Merrillville advances as a team to the Portage regional Feb. 1.
"Now we've got to get ready for Crown Point, and that's a good thing," Maldonado said. "They're the number one team in the state and not a lot of teams get a shot at that."
Hobart finished second as a team with 213 points, followed by Calumet with 144.5 and Griffith with 144.