CHAMPAIGN -- There won't be another state wrestling championship banner hanging in honor of Sal Annoreno this year.
The superb Bartlett 138-pounder was dealt a harsh blow for another state title Friday morning when Belleville West senior Mech Spraggins outlasted the Hawks senior 5-3 in a thrilling quarterfinal match inside Assembly Hall.
Later, the NIU-bound Annoreno would fall in his wrestle-back opener to Matt Sears of Marist to officially put an end to a brilliant three-year career at the school.
"What can you say?" began Bartlett head coach John O'Brien. "That was a match between two guys with the same type of talent and strength's, but unfortunately for Sal (Mech) got the last takedown and that was pretty much it."
Annoreno fell behind when a slight slip allowed Spraggins (47-1) to record the takedown, which began a game of chess of sorts between these two high profile stars, which eventually saw the Hawks' captain level the score at 2-2 before the end of the second period.
With Spraggins starting down to start the final period, his easy escape would give him a lead he would never relinquish, finishing things off with a late deuce to all but close things out for good.
The news wasn't much better on the home front for the area Fox Valley Conference wrestlers, particularly Cary-Grove sophomore Michael Cullen, who was one of the leading candidates to lift the 113-pound championship trophy Saturday night.
Cullen saw his hopes dashed after suffering his first loss of the season to No. 5 Ronald Triche (Providence Catholic) 5-1 in his early morning quarterfinal.
Later, Cullen (43-1) would start the long road back to medal contention with a 5-2 decision over Wayne Yuan (Naperville North, 39-6) in wrestlebacks.
"I know I didn't take (Triche) too lightly, but really think I was thinking about the semis and finals instead of focused more clearly on this particular opponent," said a disappointed Cullen, who didn't shy away from questions, after just having his dream of a state title derailed.
"Cullen is such an amazing wrestler, but we knew if we could get that first take, and try to set the tone with it that our chances to win would increase tremendously after that," offered a proud Providence head coach, Keith Healy.
Cullen opened up his run at a second straight state medal with a convincing 5-2 win over Wayne Yuan (Naperville North) and will meet next Kegan Calkins of Wheaton North this morning when the wrestleback quarterfinals begin.
Crystal Lake South junior Nick Gil found himself in Friday night's semifinals at 126, and the absolute four best in the state.
Gil (41-6) would quickly find out whey Jered Cortez (Glenbard North, 47-0) is the No. 2 rated 26-pounder in the nation after the Panthers junior unleashed a nasty attack which led to a fall in the first period.
"Nick is understandably upset right now, and his ego took a little hit at the same time. But Cortez is on the level of a college wrestler, and he's done that too, some of the best around, so he's got to regroup, and go after a third-place medal beginning tomorrow," said Gators head coach Ross Ryan.
The South faithful, along with Cary-Grove fans, said goodbye to a pair of first-class young men in Michael Underwood (Cary-Grove) and Nick Peters (CLS) who were dealt a bad hand when their first-round opponents were unable to win in the quarterfinals, thus robbing both of a chance to enter wrestlebacks and a possible run at a state medal in their final season for the respective clubs.
The same would happen to Hampshire senior Travis Keeling (170) who nonetheless finished with a dazzling 38-9 record for the Whip-Purs, while Brandon Mabry (Huntley) and Ray Griggle (Dundee-Crown) got a wrestleback reprieve Friday afternoon.
Mabry's (36-8) season, and career would end at the hands of Cody Snodgrass with a 3-1 defeat, but Griggle remains alive at 220 pounds, and will face Hinsdale South freshman Joshua King this morning.