DES MOINES, Iowa — Jesse Delgado already has a Big Ten wrestling title at 125 pounds on his resume this season.
Now the Illini sophomore will strive for a national title in the same weight class.
Delgado beat Nashon Garrett of Cornell 10-5 in a semifinal match Friday night at the NCAA Championships.
“I knew if I didn’t attack, he would, so I figured I would keep him off my legs and stay on his,” Delgado said. “These last three months I think I have grown a lot. (I’ve been) able to manage my emotions a lot better on and off the mat.”
Delgado (26-3) never trailed against Garrett, securing a takedown in the first period to get an early 2-0 lead before taking a 9-3 lead into the final period.
He is the first Illinois wrestler to compete for a national championship since Mike Poeta in 2009. Illinois has not had a national champion since Matt Lackey won the 165-pound title in 2003.
Delgado will face Nico Megaludis (27-3) of Penn State in tonight’s title match. Delgado beat Megaludis in a 6-3 decision during the semifinals of the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago at the Assembly Hall.
Delgado won his quarterfinal match via a 10-7 decision against Nathan Kaiser of North Carolina. Delgado trailed 7-4 with less than a minute left in the match before he rallied for the win with a reversal, three near-fall points and a riding time point.
The win against Kaiser clinched All-America honors for Delgado for the second straight season.
Two other Illini wrestlers earned All-America honors Friday night.
Jordan Blanton, at 174, beat Joseph Asper of Maryland 6-5 in the consolation round to claim the third All-America honor of his career. Conrad Polz, at 165, took care of Steven Monk from North Dakota State in the consolation round via a 5-3 decision as he garnered All-America accolades for the second time.
Win streak ends. Illinois and Nebraska combined for 29 hits, but the Illini lost 9-5 in their Big Ten debut Friday at Illinois Field.
The defeat ended a six-game winning streak for the Illini (13-5, 0-1 Big Ten), who will play a doubleheader starting at noon today after Sunday’s game was moved up because of the possibility of inclement weather.
“We were not a fundamentally sound team (Friday),” UI coach Dan Hartleb said. “We were behind in the count too much, and Nebraska took advantage of it. There are a lot of things we need to clean up.”
Michael Hurwitz (2 for 5) and Justin Parr (1 for 5) each had two RBI, and David Kerian was 3 for 4. Tyler Jay (2-3) suffered the loss in relief of starter Kevin Johnson.
Errors hurt Illini. Illinois opened Big Ten play with an 8-1 loss to Wisconsin on Friday at Eichelberger Field. Illinois (10-13, 0-1) had more errors (five) than hits (three), and Wisconsin used a five-run third inning to snap a scoreless tie and take control of the game.
“We didn’t bring our best in any part of the game,” Illinois coach Terri Sullivan said.
Illinois scored its lone run in the bottom of the fourth on an RBI groundout by Linnea Detrick that plated Kylie Johnson.
UI pitcher Shelese Arnold (4-4) threw a complete game.
In men’s golf:
Pieters in contention. Thomas Pieters was tied for second after two rounds of the Desert Shootout at Goodyear, Ariz. Pieters shot a 2-under-par 69 on Friday, giving him a two-day total of 134.
Illinois is second in the 16-team standings with a 560.