Ohio State dominates Illinois wrestlers

The No. 21 Illinois wrestling team came into Friday night’s dual against No. 3 Ohio State looking for its second straight upset over a Big Ten opponent.

By the end of the dual, the squad was just trying to maintain some pride.

The Buckeyes dominated the Illini, 38-3, dropping the Illini to 8-7 overall and 3-4 in the Big Ten. Illinois dropped the first 8 matches in a row, including three pins and a major decision, and were mathematically eliminated after just six of the 10 matches.

“We gotta get better,” head coach Jim Heffernan said after the match. “That team’s good; I think we made them look better than they are.”

Ohio State jumped out to a big lead early on the strength of a Nikko Triggas pin of John Deneen at 125 pounds, then using an Ian Paddock major decision to build a 13-0 advantage after just three matches. At 141 pounds, No. 14 Ryan Prater started off hot against No. 2 Reece Humphrey and held a 3-2 advantage after the first period. But the Illinois junior was unable to hold off his opponent for long and eventually dropped the match 14-9.

“I just started getting tired and lazy, and he started picking me apart,” Prater said. “He’s ranked second in the country. He’s a tough kid, so I’m sure I’ll see him in the Big Ten Tournament.”

The next three matches were much of the same, as both Eric Terrazas at 149 pounds and Joe Barczak at 165 pounds were pinned to go along with a 7-4 loss by Clint Arlis that sealed the fate of the Illini.

Illinois didn’t give up, though, despite the already-decided outcome. No. 13 Jordan Blanton wrestled a close match against No. 11 Dave Rella at 174 pounds. The two were tied 4-4 after three periods, sending the match to a sudden victory period. However, Rella scored a takedown in the closing seconds of overtime for a 6-4 victory.

The lone Illini points on the night were scored at 184 pounds, where No. 2 John Dergo defeated No. 7 Mike Pucillo, 6-2. It was the senior’s second victory over Pucillo this season after Dergo won 7-5 in the semifinals of this year’s Las Vegas Invitational.

“It feels good to get that win, but I’m expecting it,” Dergo said. “To win a national title, I’m going to have to come in and win big matches like these. That’s a guy I’m going to see probably in the (NCAA Championships), so it’s nice to get that win. It helps train me even more for those later tournaments.”

Junior Clinton Polz closed out the match at 197 pounds for the Illini, dropping a 16-2 major decision to C.J. Magrum. Polz, who was significantly outsized after wrestling his only match this season at 174 pounds, was filling in for No. 9 Patrick Bond, who was injured during practice. Heffernan said the team had an eye on the postseason when the decision was made to hold the Bond out of Friday’s match.

“Ultimately, with the kid being a senior, he’s had some injury issues,” Heffernan said. “I guess we’re looking at it like he needs to be the most healthy at the Big Ten Tournament. Right now, we’re doing what’s best for him as opposed to the rest of the team.”

Illinois will finish the regular season by honoring its four seniors on Thursday, when No. 24 Purdue comes to Champaign. Huff Hall will also be hosting “The Great Escape” promotion, with free admission for all fans and free food to the first 1,000 attendees.