Wrestling: Merrillville dominates for 10th straight title, advances 13 to regional
By MICHAEL OSIPOFF 713-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org February 1, 2014 11:12PM
Merrillville's Isaac Rentas (right) tries to stop the takedown attemp by Lake Central's Jake Sebahar during the East Chicago wrestling sectional held at east Chicago Central High School on February 1, 2014. | Charles Mitchell/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 3, 2014 6:00PM
EAST CHICAGO — With the state’s No. 2, No. 5 and No. 9 wrestlers, 113 pounds figured to be the marquee weight class at Saturday’s East Chicago Central Sectional.
The drama didn’t quite fully materialize, though.
Jason Crary, Munster’s standout second-ranked freshman, injury defaulted in the final to senior Michael Garza, Merrillville’s two-time state qualifier who is ranked fifth.
Crary had been 39-0, including a 29-second pin in a semifinal in his only match of the day, before officially taking the loss. The Mustangs did not enter into the decision lightly, but were keeping the rest of his postseason in mind, including next weekend’s Calumet Regional.
“He’s had some nagging injuries,” Munster coach Dan Gelarden said of Crary, who was wearing a knee brace. “We wanted to get him healthy down the road. He had a great regular season, and it was an opportunity to do this. Sometimes at this time of the year, it’s about surviving week to week.
“He’s a great kid. He’s a tough kid, a competitor. He took it as well as could be expected.”
Crary had topped Garza 4-0 in the final of Mishawaka’s Al Smith Invitational.
“You can’t blame them,” Merrillville coach David Maldonado said. “You reinjure it, and you’re done. And you’re wrestling a pretty tough man in Garza (who had beaten Morton’s ninth-ranked Rickie Rodriguez 7-0 in a semifinal). They probably just didn’t think he was ready. You can’t blame them for that. You have to protect your kids.”
Garza’s title was one of nine the Pirates won on Saturday, as they dominated the overall meet, as expected. As part of their 10th straight sectional championship — scoring 293.5 points, ahead of second-place Lake Central’s 238 — they advanced 13 wrestlers to regionals.
“It’s a sectional, so you have to show up ready to wrestle; for the most part, the kids showed up ready to wrestle,” Maldonado said.
East Chicago junior 195-pounder Robert Rivera produced the most sudden title of the tournament. The No. 3 seed in the weight class was trailing 14-0 at one point and still 14-2 late in the match, before he pinned Morton’s Adrian Palacios at 5:27.
“I thought I was going to lose that — he was beating me pretty bad,” said Rivera, who evened his career record against Palacios at 2-2 by winning their first meeting this season. “I caught him when he was trying to pin me, flipped him over and got the pin.
“I didn’t want to lose, so I was just trying to push myself and get something. And when I got it, I kept it.”
Rivera won the Cardinals’ first sectional title since 2010, when Victor Rodriguez did it at 140.
“It’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever had,” said Rivera, who in a semifinal had outlasted No. 2 seed Rene Zamora of Clark in triple-overtime, 15-14, in what he described as “the most gruesome match” of his life. “To win this, I’m ecstatic. Words can’t really say how great this feels.”
Merrillville’s champions included: Isaac Rentas at 145 (pulling out a 6-4 win against Lake Central’s Jake Sebahar on a takedown with 28 seconds left in overtime); Clarence Johnson at 126 (edging Lake Central’s Brandon Truver 5-4); Derrick Scott at 132 (as a No. 3 seed, winning by technical fall); freshman Michael DeLaPena at 106; Deven Lee at 170; Matthew Hollins at 182; Jacob Covaciu at 138; and heavyweight Shawn Streck (whose only loss this season came when Lake Central’s 220-pound state champion Gelen Robinson bumped up).
Maldonado lamented that the Pirates couldn’t equal their 10th consecutive team sectional title with 10 individual titles on Saturday, particularly noting senior 152-pounder Willie Armstrong, who lost for the fourth time in as many matches this season against Lake Central’s Kody Christenson.
Christenson, one of three champions for the Indians, held on for a 5-4 win. Also for LC, Robinson remained undefeated at 41-0, and Jake Kleimola won at 160.
Morton’s Ruben Rodriguez took the 120-pound championship.