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Illinois defeats Fresno State to close regular season

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- No. 17 Illinois wrestling closed out the regular season with a 23-9 victory over Fresno State on Friday at Huff Hall. The Illini were led by redshirt senior Eric Barone's upset win over No. 14 Jacob Wright in the 157-pound match, which was the first of five consecutive bouts won by the Illini in the dual. Illinois also saw wins from redshirt freshman Justin Cardani (125), senior Travis Piotrowski (133), redshirt freshman Danny Braunagel (165), redshirt senior Joey Gunther (174), redshirt freshman Zac Braunagel (184) and redshirt sophomore Matt Wroblewski (197). The Illini close the 2019-20 dual schedule with a record of 10-4 overall, including 6-1 in duals at Huff Hall.

"More than anything I thought we wrestled pretty well," said head coach Jim Heffernan. "We got slowed down a little bit like we did last week which concerns me, but I think our guys are ready for a couple days off and getting ready for the postseason now. The seniors did great and they've been great to our program."

Redshirt freshman Justin Cardani started the day with a strong performance in the 125-pound bout against Jeremy Trinh. Cardani jumped out to the early lead with a takedown and later a four-point nearfall in the first period. He'd tack on two more with a reversal in the second. He earned the riding time point, and achieved a shutout, 11-0, major decision over Trinh. Cardani, ranked 19th nationally at 125, moves to 15-7 on the season and closes the dual schedule with a record of 11-3.

Senior Travis Piotrowski made the last appearance of his career at Huff Hall on Friday. Taking on Lawrence Saenz in the 133-pound bout, the four-year starter Piotrowski opened his last home match with a quick takedown. He escaped twice, and added on another takedown in the third, defeating Saenz by decision, 6-4. Ranked seventh nationally at 133-pounds, Piotrowski is now 23-2 this year, and ends the dual season undefeated at 14-0.

After Fresno State won the next two bouts, the Illini needed a win to stay in front. Redshirt senior Eric Barone attacked quickly against No. 14 Jacob Wright, going ahead early in the first with a takedown. With the match tied at 2-2 in the third, Barone escaped to re-take the lead at 3-2. Barone tacked on a takedown in the final seconds to put the finishing touches on a 6-2 upset decision win over Jacob Wright. Barone's win on Senior Day is his fourth straight victory.

Redshirt freshman Danny Braunagel looked to keep the momentum going in the 165-pound match against Adam Kemp. After trailing early in the first, Braunagel responded with two takedowns later in the period and would take a 5-3 lead into the second. Braunagel did not allow a point the rest of the way, and would go on to defeat Kemp by decision, 8-3. Ranked No.12 nationally at 165. Braunagel is now 20-6 overall and finishes the dual schedule going 10-3 in those matchups.

Redshirt senior Joey Gunther had solid third period to get a win in his final start at Huff Hall. Trailing Jackson Hemauer, 1-0, at the start of the third, Gunther escaped and recorded a takedown to take a 3-1 lead. Gunther added a second takedown in the period, and would go on to defeat Hemauer by decision, 5-3. Gunther, ranked 15th nationally at 174-pounds, moves to 15-6 on the season.

Redshirt freshman Zac Braunagel had a dominant performance in his matchup with Hunter Cruz at 184-pounds. Ranked 15th nationally, Braunagel recorded eight takedowns against the No. 32-ranked Cruz en route to an 18-5 major decision. Braunagel is now 18-8 on the season.

Redshirt sophomore Matt Wroblewski earned the final Illini victory of the dual. Taking on Dominic Kincaid, Wroblewski recorded two first period takedowns and ended the opening frame with a 4-3 lead. Wroblewski added a takedown in both the second and third periods, and would win the 197-pound bout in a 10-6 decision over Kincaid.

With the regular season now wrapped up, Illinois wrestling will prepare for the 2020 Big Ten Championships, set for Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8 at Rutgers.

Results:
125: No. 19 Justin Cardani (ILL) major dec. Jeremy Trinh (FRES), 11-0 | ILL 4, FRES 0
133: No. 7 Travis Piotrowski (ILL) dec. Lawrence Saenz (FRES), 6-4 | ILL 7, FRES 0
141: No. 15 DJ Lloren (FRES) dec. No. 17 Dylan Duncan (ILL), 3-2 | ILL 7, FRES 3
149: Greg Gaxiola (FRES) dec. Mousa Jodeh (ILL), 4-3 | ILL 7, FRES 6
157: Eric Barone (ILL) dec. No. 14 Jacob Wright, 6-2 | ILL 10, FRES 6
165: No. 12 Danny Braunagel (ILL) dec. Adam Kemp (FRES), 8-3 | ILL 13, FRES 6
174: No. 15 Joey Gunther (ILL) dec. Jackson Hemauer (FRES), 5-3 | ILL 16, FRES 6
184: No. 15 Zac Braunagel (ILL) major dec. No. 32 Hunter Cruz (FRES), 18-5 | ILL 20, FRES 6
197: Matt Wroblewski (ILL) dec. Dominic Kincaid (FRES), 10-6 | ILL 23, FRES 6
285: No. 9 Josh Hokit (FRES) dec. No. 27 Luke Luffman (ILL), 8-2 | ILL 23, FRES 9

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