Salazar, McKee Headed to Finals at Big Ten Championships

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Minnesota wrestlers Patrick McKee and Isaiah Salazar both earned spots in their respective title matches as the opening day of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships wrapped up Saturday at the XFINITY Center.

In addition to McKee and Salazar’s successes, Minnesota also qualified six wrestlers for the NCAA Championships later this month in Kansas City, Mo. As a team, the Golden Gophers are currently in seventh place with 66 points.

The four-seed, McKee, needed overtime, but he reached the finals for the first time in his career and became the first Gopher finalist at 125 pounds since Ethan Lizak in 2013.

McKee’s opponent was Rutgers’ Dean Peterson, the No. 9 seed who defeated McKee in the regular season. After a scoreless first period, McKee rode out Peterson for the entire second frame. In the third, Peterson led 3-1 in the waning seconds before McKee scored an escape to force overtime. In the extra session, McKee needed only 20 seconds to score the takedown and continue his quest to be the first Gopher Big Ten champ at 125 pounds since Jayson Ness in 2007.

McKee dominated in the first session of the day, outscoring his opponents 24-6. He started with a 19-4 tech fall over Maryland’s No. 13 Tommy Capul. In the quarterfinals, McKee topped Nebraska’s No. 5 Caleb Smith, 5-2.

The top seed at 184 pounds, Salazar nearly needed extra time like McKee, but he scored a takedown right before the buzzer to earn his spot in the finals. Battling No. 5 Jaden Bullock of Michigan, the match was tied at 1-1 in the closing seconds, but Salazar got Bullock on a double-leg and recorded the takedown with two seconds left on the clock.

Prior to beating Bullock, Salazar bested Northwestern’s Troy Fisher, 4-2, in the quarterfinals. Salazar is the first Gopher in the 184-pound finals since Brett Pfarr in 2015, and he’s looking to be the first champion there since Kevin Steinhaus in 2012.

Minnesota also saw senior Andrew Sparks reach the semifinals at 174 pounds. Seeded ninth, Sparks initially dispatched Indiana’s No. 9 Donnell Washington, 10-5, before advancing past Penn State’s top-ranked Carter Starocci due to injury default. In the semifinals, Sparks was beaten by Illinois’ No. 4 Edmond Ruth in overtime, 4-1.

Along with the semifinalists, sixth-year senior Garrett Joles and redshirt sophomores Vance VomBaur and Blaine Brenner also clinched NCAA trips.

Joles will compete in the consolation semis on Sunday morning after a 3-1 record on Saturday. The No. 5 seed, Joles, opened with an 11-0 shutout of No. 12 Isiah Pettigrew of Illinois but lost to No. 4 Silas Allred of Nebraska, 5-4. In the consolation bracket, Joles pinned Michigan State’s No. 11 Kael Wisler in 3:57, then dominated in an 8-0 major decision over Northwestern’s No. 8 Evan Bates, guaranteeing Joles his best career finish at Big Tens.

VomBaur and Brenner will wrestle in the seventh-place matches at 141 and 165 pounds, respectively.

The No. 10 seed, VomBaur, got there after bouncing back from an opening-round pin at the hands of Rutgers’ Mitch Moore. In the consolation, he took out Michigan State’s No. 8 Jordan Hamdan before a 10-2 major decision loss to the No. 4 seed, Brock Hardy, of Nebraska.

Brenner made a splash in his initial bout with his first pin of the season, defeating Purdue’s Stoney Buell at the 3:43 mark. Brenner was pinned by No. 2 Mitchell Mesenbrink of Penn State in the quarterfinals but won his next match to secure his NCAA bid with a 5-4 victory against No. 8 Bryce Hepner of Ohio State. An 8-2 decision loss to Michigan’s No. 6 Cameron Amine.

With NCAA allocation at stake, redshirt sophomore Drew Roberts will compete in an extra bracket at 149 pounds. With the top nine wrestlers earning a spot, Roberts will need to win two matches Sunday to make it seven Gophers bound for Kansas City. Roberts lost his opening match to Indiana’s Graham Rooks, 7-4, in overtime, and then fell to Wisconsin’s Joseph Zargo, 6-4.

Three Gophers saw their tournament runs end Saturday night.

At 133 pounds, eighth-seeded true freshman Tyler Wells won his Big Ten tournament debut with an 8-4 win over Wisconsin’s No. 9 seed Nicolar Rivera before falling to No. 1 seed Dylan Ragusin in the quarterfinals, 6-2. Wells then medically forfeited his consolation match.

The No. 2 seed at 157 pounds, sixth-year senior Michael Blockhus had an unfortunate end to his day. He required medical attention in the quarterfinals versus Michigan’s No. 7 Will Lewan and was then pinned. Blockhus injury defaulted in the consolations.

Like Wells, redshirt sophomore heavyweight Bennett Tabor won his postseason debut. Tabor posted a 7-0 shutout of Michigan State’s Josh Terrill before falling in the quarterfinals to the nation’s top heavyweight, Greg Kerkvliet of Penn State, 15-0. In the consolation bracket, Tabor was defeated by Nebraska’s No. 10 seed, Nash Hutmacher, 9-1.

Day two of the Big Ten Championships starts Sunday morning at 11 a.m. CT with Session III, which features extra bracket matches, consolation semifinals, and seventh-place matches. Session IV, which features the first, third, and fifth-place bouts, is set to start at 3:30 p.m. CT.

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