MERRILLVILLE | Saturday's Merrillville Semistate came to an abrupt end for Portage sophomore Gaige Torres and Indians coach Leroy Vega.
Up 5-1 on South Bend Clay's Jake Hartman in a 120-pound quarterfinal match, Torres was 10 seconds from a state finals berth when he was disqualified for an illegal slam call. Vega was subsequently ejected from the meet and escorted outside by police for arguing the decision.
"We're winning, why would we slam him?" Vega said by phone. "I thought they could have called unsportsmanlike (conduct). It was a judgement call. At that point, I couldn't do anything about it.
"It was put in the ref's hands and he made a decision. He called a slam. It wasn't a slam."
Torres (30-2) was ranked top five in the state and placed seventh at 113 pounds as a freshman.
"I don't know what to tell him," Vega said. "I'm at a loss for words. How do you explain that to a kid?"
Hartman defaulted his remaining matches. According to his dad Al, who is also his coach, he was taken home and will undergo an MRI to determine what coach Hartman believes is a concussion.
"I saw the same move 20 times," Vega said. "It was because of the situation. He didn't get up so they called a slam."
"It's very unfortunate," Al Hartman said. "I think the call could have gone either way. (Torres) didn't do it on purpose, but he had (Jake's) arm trapped. I think that's what the ref saw."
Hartman said his son asked if his spot for state could be given to Torres.
"I have a lot of respect for Gaige Torres," Hartman said. "We felt so bad about what happened. We didn't want his season to end that way."
Vega did not regret his vociferous defense of Torres.
"Emotions took over," he said. "I'd do it again. As a coach, it's my job to fight for my kids. I believe in my kids. I may look back in 20 years and say I shouldn't have reacted like that, that I should have picked a different fight, but I'm going to stand by what I believe.
"I did what I had to do."
Vega said he is prepared to accept the consequences of his actions, which could mean he will not be allowed to coach Steven Lawrence, Portage's sole qualifier, at state Friday.
"I'll live with it," he said. "If I can't coach, we've got a great coaching staff who will do a great job coaching Steven and getting him ready."
Lawrence advanced as part of an all-region quartet at 138, edging Penn's Jarod Swank 4-3 in the quarterfinals. He finished third.
Valpo's Tristan Dembowski was Porter County's only other qualifier. He scored on a switch in the final seconds to top Benton Central's Cole Lukaszka 2-0 in the quarters. He reached the finals by virtue of Hartman's default and lost to Sinkovics 15-4.
LaPorte 285-pounder Landon Blackburn advanced with a third, losing to Merrillville's Shawn Streck in the semis before finishing with a win. Slicer 182-pounder Mike Eldridge (40-2) was upset in the ticket round 4-1 by Penn's Jeff Wiseman.
Also in the round to go, Portage's Travis Williams lost in double overtime to Penn's Clayton Stohler at 220 and Indian Matt Hedrick fell 1-0 to Crown Point's Morgan Kral at 195. Kral's second-period escape accounted for the only point.
Chesterton advanced none of its six wrestlers. At 170, Alex Katsafaros' comeback came up short as he lost 4-3 to Delphi's Hunter Mote.