East Chicago wrestling sectional

Morton’s Isaiah Watts, left, and Merrillville’s Jacob Maldanado, seen here at last week's E.C. Central Sectional, also wrestled Saturday at the Hobart Regional.

HOBART — Morton senior Isaiah Watts had a goal to win a regional championship at 145 pounds on Saturday at Hobart.

Watts didn’t get that done, but in the process he qualified for the semistate with a chance to get a coveted berth in the state finals. That’s the individual part of wrestling, the opportunity to walk onto the mat at Bankers Life FIeldhouse at state is still out there.

“Obviously, my goal was to come in and win first place, but it didn’t go as planned,” said Watts, after losing a 7-4 battle to Merrillville’s Jacob Maldonado in the title bout. “You can’t get everything you want.”

It was the third time Maldonado got the best of Watts this season, but the senior's eye is on the opportunity next Saturday at the E.C. Central Semistate.

“Even making it to the finals here is reason to celebrate,” Watts said. “I’m grateful.”

Morton coach Kevin Persley is proud of how Watts and classmate Reese Rodriguez, who lost a tightly-contested 12-8 decision to Portage’s Ricky Hegedus at 132 in the final.

“We wrestled tough in the finals,” Persley said. “It’s one thing to lose a match, and it’s another thing to lose a battle. And I think both guys battled, and that’s the goal. You’ve got to be a tough out, or you’re not even going to make the finals.”

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Persley said he told Watts before the match to Maldonado to remember that no matter what happened, he was going to be wrestling next week at East Chicago.

“I said, ‘It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, you’ve got another week,’” Persley said. “I tried to loosen him up a little bit. He performed good. He’s closing the gap. He’s getting closer and closer.”

Watts finished third in the regional at 138 last year to qualify for the semistate where he lost his first match. Persley said they want to change the outcome this season.

“Just to get (to the state finals) is an accomplishment,” he said. “To be one of 16 out of the 326 schools that wrestle in the state of Indiana, man that is an accomplishment.”

It’s a battle for Morton which didn’t have full complement of wrestlers for the state tournament.

“We wrestled eight last week (at sectional), and seven qualified here,” Persley said. “Unfortunately, we only got two out. We lost a couple nail-biters in the first round, like the final matches, just coming up a couple points short.”

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