Alex Mercado came in ready to make a statement, and he didn’t need long.
Mercado was one of five individuals from Morristown to bring home a first-place medal in his respective weight class in Monday’s Inter Mountain Conference tournament at Morristown West’s Michael R. Reed Gymnasium.
Three wrestlers won gold for Morristown East while two Morristown West wrestlers took first place at the podium.
Jefferson County won the IMAC team championship with 224.5 points while the Hurricanes took second with 137 and West placed third with 98.5 points.
Mercado (21-3) wasted little time in the 160-pound final, using a standard half move to pin Jefferson County’s Kaden Worley in 18 seconds. It was Mercado’s second win by fall of the day as he needed just 53 seconds to pin Seymour’s Alex MacIntosh in the semifinals.
“I think he came into this tournament to make a statement not only in the IMAC but in the regionals that he’s ready to take it all the way,” East coach Dale Johnson said of Mercado. “He’s got his mind set to place at state. Hopefully we can see him do that.”
Sebastian Barboza (22-6) likewise won both of his matches by fall to represent East in first place at the podium, pinning Jefferson County’s Lane Weatherford in 1:54 to advance to the finals where he executed the cradle to win by fall over Morristown West’s Shane Watson (17-17) in a time of 1:50.
Watson advanced to the 152 finals with a pin in 1:27 over Cocke County’s Aidan Deville.
“Sebastian has stepped up to be a leader,” Johnson said. “He’s staying more focused and he’s become more of a technical wrestler than trying to use overall strength. Him coming out and winning this will hopefully boost his confidence for regionals.”
Bradley Jackson (7-6) won the 113 weight class by default, bringing East’s gold medal count to three.
Camden Buckingham (31-3) had little trouble taking home first place in the 182 class, consistently earning points on takedowns as he won by tech fall over Jefferson County’s Hunter Bryant with a 16-0 lead 4:46 into the match.
Bryant likewise won by tech fall in the semifinals with a 16-1 advantage 4:10 in over East’s Dakota Lewis (1-2).
Sonny Watson (24-14) brought home the other gold medal for West in 195 as he completed a takedown in the closing seconds of the third period to win by decision 3-1 over East’s Timothy Steinmann (12-8).
Watson pinned Jefferson County’s Noah Marrisett in the quarterfinals before advancing to the final round with a 5-2 decision over South-Doyle’s Joel Smith.
“Camden is getting to be a better wrestler every day. If he can just continue to get better all the way through the region tournament he’ll be OK. Sonny is just a freshman and he’s improving every day,” said West coach Terry Young, who took seven wrestlers to state last year. “Our program has come a long way. We’ve just had several injuries this year.”
Juan Rodriguez (26-8) finished runner-up in the 126 class, defeating East’s Ricardo Martinez (14-7) by decision 20-8 before falling to Landon Fisher in the championship 11-2.
Adrian Bautista (20-17) lost by fall in the 132 championship to Jefferson County’s Logan Fisher in 1:58.
Codie Hadley took home silver in 145 after falling by decision 20-14 to Jefferson County’s Cameron Evon.
Austin McKinney (106) Martinez (126), Kenyon Trent (132), Rolando Duarte (138) and Lewis (182) all finished third for East.
Jaycee Reff (120), Cody Harris (138), Aaron Lawson (170), Curtis Pinkston (220) and Taylor Thomas (285) also placed first in their respective weight classes for JCHS.
The Region 1-AAA wrestling duals take place on Jan. 25 at Jefferson County High School in Dandridge.