Seniors pin Buckeyes, leave Huff with victory

 

 

By Mike Theodore

Senior Matt Winterhalter stepped into the Huff Hall ring for the last time in his career Sunday afternoon knowing he needed to score at least a major decision to earn the Illini’s seventh Big Ten dual victory.

Winterhalter’s match was the final and decisive match of the dual between the No. 7 Illini and the No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes.

The fifth-year senior came out strong in the first period, scoring five points, including a three-point near fall. His opponent, Tommy Priestley, could not rebound and failed to score a point in three periods.

“I just went out today and I felt good,” Winterhalter said. “It was my last chance to perform out here; I just wanted to do my best.”

The 9-0 major decision gave Illinois four team points and its seventh Big Ten dual victory.

“It’s a great way to go out,” coach Mark Johnson said. “We told our guys up in the wrestling room before we came down here that we have no margin for error. Every point has to mean something and that came true.”

Winterhalter’s win evened his season record to 7-7 and his Big Ten record to 3-3.

“It’s awesome,” Johnson said. “Is there a better scenario for a kid like that who has paid his dues? He’s a great student; he’s a civil engineer major.”

Illinois managed to win six of the ten matches even without three starting grapplers. Top-ranked Mike Poeta (157) and Troy Tirapelle (149) once again did not compete due to injuries. Their replacements, Dan Zeman and Clint Arlis, both lost major decisions. No. 6 Gabe Flores, who Johnson said is also banged up, forfeited his 125-pound match against the Buckeyes’ Will Livingston. The forfeit gave the Buckeyes six team points.

“(The injured wrestlers are) ready to come back,” Johnson said. “They need a couple more days break. We still got a win without them and that’s very important.”

Fellow senior and All-American Cassio Pero (141) also ended his Huff Hall career with a major decision. He defeated J Jaggers 11-4 to regain the Illini lead. Jaggers entered the match an impressive 5-1 in conference action, but Pero’s seven-point third period proved too much for the sophomore.

The Illini faithful gave Pero a standing ovation after the match.

“It was emotional for me,” Pero said. “I tried to savor the moment a little bit and I was happy everybody supported me and stood up and clapped for me. That made me feel real good.”

Also winning their respective matches for the Illini was reigning Big Ten Wrestler of the Week Patrick Bond (197), heavyweight John Wise, true-freshman Jimmy Kennedy (133), and Roger Smith-Bergsrud (165).

“I’m just happy my teammates stayed focused and we pulled out the win,” Pero said.

The Illini will have two weeks off to nurse injuries before the Big Ten Championships March 3-4.