Things started slow for the home team Sunday afternoon, but once No. 1 ranked Luke Pletcher took the mat at 141 pounds, Ohio State rolled up eight-consecutive victories to run Illinois out of the building, 28-6. The Buckeyes improve to 7-1 on the season in dual-meet competition, and 3-0 in Big Ten competition.
Pletcher won his 100th career victory in what has become the new normal for the senior captain, pushing the pace and rivaling co-captain Kollin Moore for who can finish the most takedowns in their respective matches. Pletcher pushed the pace early and was dominant in the victory over another Top-15 opponent.
Moore set off the fireworks in the night's penultimate match, ending the bout at 4:35 with the first pin of the season inside Covelli Center, and his third victory by fall of the season. Going takedown-to-takedown early as is his style, a boisterous female fan in the upper deck exhorted the top-ranked 197-pounder to go for the kill: "Don't let him go, TURN HIM!" she shouted.
He must have heard her, because seconds later he buried Matt Wroblewski's second arm and flipped him over for the pin.
Turning the Corner
It's been a tough season for redshirt junior Elijah Cleary at 157 pounds. He came into the weekend with a season record of 11-7 and riding a five-match losing streak in dual-meet competition.
Coach Tom Ryan and staff have sounded confident all year long that Cleary had the tools to make some noise in the class, often referring to his work ethic and performance on the mat in practice. Friday night in Madison he snapped the losing streak, and came back to Columbus to pick up his second win in as many outings - this time against a ranked opponent.
It took extra innings to get the job done, as No. 22 Eric Barone was able to force sudden victory, but Cleary refused to lose the match. After a scoreless sudden victory period, Cleary dug deep to get the go-ahead escape point in the first 30-second tiebreaker period and then rode Barone out in the second to seal the win.
Three bouts later Rocky Jordan followed suit, picking up his second win of the weekend. After looking relatively flat in dual meets at 174 pounds early in the season, Jordan looked like a new man this weeked: he picked up a tech fall over a back-up 174-pounder in Madison, and then outwrestled No. 11 Zac Braunagel Sunday in Columbus.
The youngest Jordan brother got off to a hot start, shooting early in the first period leading 4-1 after three minutes with 2:19 of riding time in his pocket. That period was the difference maker; Braunagel fought to stay in the match, but Jordan was able to stay one step ahead and iced the victory late for his first dual-meet win over ranked competition.
No. 12 Ethan Smith got back in the win column Sunday, upending No. 14 Danny Braunagel in a 3-1 decision with a last-second takedown. It was good tonic for Smith, who dropped a tough 7-4 decision to No. 4 Evan Wick Friday night at Wisconsin.
Smith said after the match that the win over Braunagel was important because it forced him to move on from the loss to Wick, and to keep focusing on improving as the team heads into the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
Sammy Sasso picked up a major decision against an unranked opponent early, and Kaleb Romero outclassed redshirt senior Joey Gunther with a consistently aggressive approach to the match. His three takedowns were more than enough to win the bout, and he continues to look like he's rounding into form as a legitimate shot to make the podium in Minneapolis.
Ohio State dropped the first two matches of the night for the second time this weekend. Malik Heinselman continues to struggle at 125 pounds, though he did a much better job in both matches at actually mounting an offense and not giving up the match before the final whistle.
That said, he continues to be a case of what Tom Ryan described after the meet as "almost, almost." He almost won the bout Friday night but dropped an 8-6 decision, and he almost unseated No. 24 Justin Cardani Sunday for a much-needed victory. Instead, he not only let Cardani battle back from a 5-3 advantage to force Sudden Victory, but he then gave up the winning takedown, dropping another 8-6 decision.
Jordan Decatur at 133 faced his fourth-consecutive ranked opponent in dual meets, and now finds himself in a three-match losing streak against those opponents. Losing to No. 1 Seth Gross at Wisconsin is nothing to be ashamed about – Gross is favored to win his second NCAA title this season.
Sunday's match against No. 8 Travis Piotrowski felt like an opportunity for Decatur to get back to even against the Top 25, as Piotrowski had yet to pick up a win against the upper echelon in the class. It didn't pan out that way, however, as Piotrowski scored first and worked Decatur over on top; that first-period takedown and a second-period reversal after Jordan scored his only takedown of the match made the difference in the bout.
He has his toughest match of the season Friday night, squaring up against Iowa's Austin DeSanto. It'll be interesting to see how he responds to some extended adversity in his first season as a collegiate athlete.
The Most Interesting Man In Columbus
What can you say about Gas Tank Gary that hasn't already been said? The Cincinnati native and former walk-on has captured the hearts of Ohio State fans and the larger wrestling community with his story of hard work, perseverance and simply believing in himself when opportunity presented itself.
After dropping a decision to No. 5 Trent Hillger in Madison Friday night, one might have wondered if Traub could recapture some of that Covelli Center magic so central to his legend. He did that and more, scoring early and often against Luke Luffman, a true freshman who had at least 24 pounds on the svelte Traub.
It was a 4-2 first period for the Buckeye big man, and he would go on to score a takedown in the second and two more in the third. Luffman tried to mount some attacks of his own, but each time seemed to find the savvy veteran ready to capitalize and turn the shot attempt into a score of his own.
Traub improves to 17-3 on the season, and the only question left to ask is will this be the week he finds himself in the national rankings?
Anyone else notice this uncanny resemblance between Gas Tank Gary and Sadulaev? pic.twitter.com/3XkIL18mqi— David Bray (@_davidbray) January 14, 2020
One interesting side note: Former 184-pound starter Gavin Hoffman, unseated by an ascendant Rocky Jordan, entered this weekend's Purple Raider Open in Alliance, Ohio... and wrestled heavyweight. He won the 285-pound bracket, winning a major and a pair of decisions along the way.
Quinn Kinner won the 157-pound bracket at the same tournament, Jashon Hubbard won at 165 and Carson Kharchla won at 174.
|125||No. 24 Justin Cardani, decision over Malik Heinselman (8-6, SV-1)||0||3|
|133||No. 8 Travis Piotrowski, decision over No. 20 Jordan Decatur (6-2)||0||6|
|141||No.1 Luke Pletcher, decision over No. 12 Dylan Duncan (12-5)||3||6|
|149||No. 6 Sammy Sasso, major decision over Mousa Jodeh (13-3)||7||6|
|157||Elijah Cleary, decision over No. 22 Eric Barone (4-3, TB-2)||10||6|
|165||No. 12 Ethan Smith, decision over No. 14 Danny Braunagel (3-1)||13||6|
|174||No. 8 Kaleb Romero, decision over No. 16 Joey Gunther (6-3)||16||6|
|184||Rocky Jordan, decision over No. 11 Zac Braunagel (6-4)||19||6|
|197||No. 1 Kollin Moore, victory by FALL over Matt Wroblewski (4:35)||25||6|
|HWT||Gary Traub, decision over Luke Luffman (11-4)||28||6|
It was a solid weekend for the Buckeyes, but next weekend presents the toughest challenge for the team to date, as they travel to Iowa City Friday night to face the No. 1 Hawkeyes in primetime, and then head north to the Twin Cities Sunday to face Minnesota. Both meets will be televised nationally on the Big Ten Network.
Friday's meet marks the first time in three years Ohio State has stepped inside the hostile environment of Carver-Hawkeye Arena in three years.
Pletcher and Moore are the only two members of the roster to have wrestled at Iowa, as both picked up wins in that meet, on Jan. 27, 2017. The younger members of the team will be in for a rude awakening as they face the largest crowd they'll see until heading back to Minneapolis for the NCAA tournament in March.