PORTAGE — With a lineup already stocked by state contenders, Portage is tough enough as it is.
When fifth seeds like 113-pounder Ricky Hegedus start winning Duneland Athletic Conference titles, it's almost unfair.
"Guys like Ricky and Jacob (Bondon) being in the (195) finals, those are the guys that help you win a state title," coach Leroy Vega said after his Indians rolled to their fourth straight team championship, racking up seven firsts and a meet-record 275 points. "Our schedule's so tough. The biggest thing is just believing in our training, making sure we're stayng healthy and getting better and better as we go."
Hegedus was part of Portage's four-weight run to start the finals with Jacob Moran (106), Brock Peele (120) and Colin Poynter (126) also topping the podium.
Moran was rolling into the third period with a big lead over Merrillville's Martin Cruz, who rallied late to make it close at 16-12.
"I started off strong, but if I'm going to win a state title, I have to wrestle all six minutes," Moran said. "He's a goer. Credit to him. It didn't matter if he was up 14 or down 14. He was still coming. He finished the match with two, three takedowns, that gives him hope for regionals. He's third in the state, but it should've been a larger gap. I'm training well. I'm healthy. I've just got to finish."
Hegedius downed nemesis Danny Tolin of Chesterton 4-2 in the semis before a technical fall in the finals.
"I was underranked," Hegedus said. "I thought I was going to win. My record (12-7) is pretty bad right now, but I know the guys I lost to are pretty good. I took some tough losses at the beginning, but it's going to make me better overall."
Kris Rumph (138), Kasper McIntosh (145) and D.J. Washington (160) also took firsts for Portage. Washington moved up to a potent class featuring fourth-ranked Oszkar Kasch (Crown Point) and 2017 state runner up Diego Lemley (Chesterton) and beat them, Kasch 9-7 in overtime in the semifinals and Lemley 12-6 in the finals.
"I just wanted to go up to see how tough the competition is," the soft-spoken Washington said. "It means the work is finally paying off. I just have to believe in myself."
Kasch won the prior meeting a week earlier.
"We've got two great wrestlers in the conference. Why not?" Vega said. "There are times he doubts himself and has to refocus. You can see it at times. He'll be, 'Hey, I can be here.' Once he believes he's one of the best in the state, he's going to be hard to beat. He's just got to realize it."
C.P. was also on the short end of an upset at 152, where Merrillville's Aaron Griggs pinned Noah Lamore, catching an ankle pick to a cradle. Griggs was shut out when they faced off in the teams' dual matchup.
"It's just getting after it, moving my feet, not settling," Griggs said. "We always practice ankle picks. It was a little surprising. It fell into position and I locked it up. It'a big win for me looking to the postseason. I kind of have confidence issues. I have to believe in myself more."
Cade Girgenti (182) and Lucas Davison (195) went back-to-back for Chesterton, which was minus 285 favorite Eli Pokorney due to a minor knee injury. Girgenti, who scored a second-period pin, doesn't mind excelling in the shadows of his higher-profile teammates.
"It's all right with me. It doesn't bother me," he said. "I've pushed myself harder this year. I've improved on my feet. I'm moving better."
David Taylor hit a late takedown on a duck under in the 132 final to edge Merrillville's Jacob Maldonado 5-4 to give Michigan City its first DAC champ in an estimated six or seven years.
"It feels amazing to win this tournament. It's one of the toughest there is," Taylor said. "When he let me up, I saw there was a minute on the clock and I had to be aggressive. He kept putting his arm up and we drill for that scenario every day in practice. I feel more confident this year. I'm more experienced. I hope it sets an example that if you work hard you can achieve your goals."
Other winners were LaPorte's Noah Perez (182), Merrillville's Brandon Streck (220) and C.P.'s Michael Foster (285).