FRANKFORT – For the fans who wanted to see the high point for local wrestlers in Saturday’s Lincoln-Way East Illini Classic, they pretty much had to sit and wait around to the final few matches of the two-day competition.
But they were certainly rewarded for the patience as competitors from the five area schools who were in the event made up two-thirds of the individuals assured of earning medals for top-six finishes in the last four weight classes. As a bonus, seven of the eight who headed to the title mat from 182 pounds to 285 and all four champions were from local programs.
With Morris’ Cody Baldridge kicking things off at 182 en route to clinching the event’s outstanding wrestler award, the area saw an impressive show from their big men, who exited with two perfect records and only three defeats against them combined for the season.
Minooka’s Drew Gutknecht followed with a win at 195, Plainfield North’s Matt Hennessey captured top honors at 220 and Lincoln-Way East’s Devin O’Rourke won the finale at 285.
In a very tight team race, Class 2A power Washington took first with 207½ points, while Minooka edged Lincoln-Way West, 196½-193, for second place in a showdown between two of the state’s top Class 3A squads.
Baldridge advanced to his third straight finals and repeated as a champion after defeating Lincoln-Way East’s Nick Mihajlovich, 9-3. The Redskins senior, who has finished second in the state in Class 2A the past two seasons, improved to 24-0 with the win.
“Things are going really good this season,” Baldridge said. “I played it a little safe in that match, more than I should have since I should have been more on the attack. The last two or three weeks, I’ve been getting some pretty good competition and have been running into kids who are more my size and are higher-caliber wrestlers. And you need to see that type of competition to see where you’re at. You need to get that push.”
At 195, sophomore Gutknecht moved to 15-2 on the season after claiming an 11-2 title victory over Plainfield North’s Devontea Davis.
“My uncle passed away this season, so I’ve dedicated my season to him,” Gutknecht said. “I think that’s why I’m having such an explosive year and have only lost two matches so far. After going 12-17 last year, it’s been a big improvement for me and I’ve worked my butt off in the wrestling room. We changed practice partners so I work with some new big guys and faster guys. We’re ranked fifth in the state and we just have fun in the practice room.”
In the next title match at 220, senior Hennessey improved to 28-0 after recording a fall in only 1:01 against Minooka’s Connor Briley. After not doing as well as he hoped to last year at state, the top-ranked individual at 220 in 3A is very focused on his plans for this year.
“I’m just going out there and trying to be as dominant as I possibly can be,” Hennessey said. “I want to really shut down anyone else’s hopes for the state title at 220 this year, and that’s pretty much my goal. So when I go out there, my goal is to score as many points as I possibly can and I’m really focused on that throughout my training. I think I’ve worked harder than anyone else in the offseason and it’s paying off now.”
And in the 285 championship, senior O’Rourke captured a 5-0 victory over Washington’s Jace Punke. As a sophomore, O’Rourke fell in a title match in his tournament. While already lined up with a football scholarship to Northwestern University, O’Rourke wanted to compete one last season on the mat.
“It’s awesome to finish this off, and I’ve been doing pretty good,” O’Rourke said. “Last year I had to sit out the season because of my thumb, so it’s great to be out here in my last year before I play football. When I’m in college, I feel like I’ll miss being with my friends in practice. A lot of guys wouldn’t have come back if they’re going to play college football after missing a year, but I’ve been wrestling since I was 4 years old. So it’s just kind of second nature.”
O’Rourke’s teammate Chris Wilder was hoping to repeat as a champion but lost in the title match at 170 to Washington’s Garrett Rich, 3-1, in overtime. And Minooka’s Cody Hoshell also reached the title mat at 132 but was pinned in 52 seconds by Washington’s Tyler Delaware.
Finishing third were Plainfield North’s Dylan Amico (106), Minooka’s Austin Markee (120), Lincoln-Way West’s Payton Geigner (126), Minooka’s Jake Ryan (152), Lincoln-Way West’s Jacob Cronk (160), Kyle Quinn (170) and Jimmie Olds (220).
Placing fourth were Lincoln-Way West’s Javen Estrada (106), Morris’ Zach Sater (132), Minooka’s Adam McDowell (138), Lincoln-Way West’s Brock Pfeifer (152), Minooka’s Alec Dufour (170) and Connor Colbert (182), Lincoln-Way East’s John Christensen (195) and Jaden Hacha (220) and Lincoln-Way West’s Nick Skentzos (285).