CALUMET TWP. | Merrillville coach David Maldonado says the key to winning a wrestling state title is winning the regional as an individual, so as to avoid meeting another regional champ later in the bracket.
Merrillville put nine wrestlers in the finals at Saturday's Calumet regional and seven of them will be right where Maldonado wants them to be after winning their respective weight classes.
"We had a good day," Maldonado said. "You've always got to be happy with a win, especially against teams like Portage and Lake Central and some of these other individual (wrestlers)."
The Pirates scored 201.5 points and will advance 11 wrestlers to the semistate it hosts next weekend.
"There's nothing like rolling out of bed and getting to work," Maldonado said.
Willie Armstrong avenged four losses to Lake Central's Kody Christenson in the 152-pound championship. The Pirates' senior won a 5-3 overtime decision in what may have been the most exciting match of the day.
"That was the victory that I needed. I can't really explain how happy I was," Armstrong said. "In overtime, I was like 'Man, I'm in the same predicament.' I just kept thinking 'This is going to send me to semistate, so just push through it and hope for the best.'"
Merrillville's Michael Garza was just as excited after winning the 113-pound final with a 3-2 decision over Munster's Jason Crary. Garza screamed and flexed as the third-period buzzer sounded.
Crary, who wore a bulky knee brace Saturday, beat Garza 3-0 at the Al Smith Invitational in December.
"I wanted this more than anything, like it was my last match," Garza said. "It's a big milestone, because (Crary's) ranked second in the state. It makes me feel like I'm a possible contender for that state title."
Portage finished second as a team with 149.5 points. Gaige Torres won the 120-pound weight class with a 7-3 decision over Morton's Ruben Rodriguez.
Torres, who was in control most of the match, said his experience wrestling Rodriguez's younger brother Rickie gave him an advantage in his first meeting with Ruben.
"I knew what his brother did, so I just stayed away from his setups and just plowed ahead for six minutes," Torres said. "My coach (Leroy Vega) always tells me to go out there and give 100 percent and just make sure you dominate."
Merrillville's other champions were Clarence Johnson (126), Jacob Covaciu (138), Isaac Rentas (145), Matthew Hollins (182) and Shawn Streck (285).
Other champions include Lake Central Jake Kleimola (160) and Gelen Robinson (220), Griffith's Jeremiah Reitz (106), Calumet's Alec Noworul (132), Portage's Matt Hedrick and Hobart's Scottie Sopko (170).