The Pittsburgh Panthers wrestling team snapped its six-match losing streak on Sunday defeating No. 18 Oklahoma by a score of 19-18. Just two days after falling to No. 25 North Dakota State, Pitt bounced back with a strong team effort. On the backs of a Dom Forys major, a Nick Zanetta come-from-behind win, and a patented Solomon pin with the match on the line, Keith Gavin earned his first ranked win as a head coach.
“A lot more effort, a lot more fight.” Pitt was noticeably more energetic and aggressive compared to Friday night’s loss, as well as previous losses to Bucknell and Clarion. Coach Gavin was much more pleased with his team’s effort, along with the way they regrouped after losing to NDSU. “There was a lot of frustration because we thought we got outworked and the message was ‘how long are we going to wait before we start demanding the best out of ourselves?’”
A lot of the criticism after last match, which was Pitt’s sixth loss in a row, revolved around “heart,” effort, and desire. It was an indictment of mental and emotional aspects, not physical talent. “Some guys got sick of being pushed around.” Gavin continued, “let’s bring this type of effort, this type of attitude to each match.” Up and down the lineup Pitt competed better, which is even more impressive considering they began down 6-0 on account of the forfeit at 125. But as Nick Zanetta noted, “[Gavin] pointed out we scored higher than them at Vegas with nine guys so why can’t we beat them at a dual meet.” It was only one win, but a good win, and one that may be a catalyst moving forward.
There was a big, vocal crowd at the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse on Sunday and they had plenty to cheer for right off the bat. Dom Forys was handling his opponent, Jake Rubio, rather easily, but as they saying goes, every point matters. With a major decision just one takedown away, Forys did not try many scoring attempts in the third period, eliciting encouragement from the fans. But with about 10 seconds left, he hit a beautiful lefty high-crotch, getting the two points, and securing the major. With the final score 19-18, getting four team points instead of three was obviously important. The first tie breaker (wins) would have been tied 5-5. The second tie breaker (pins/forfeits) would have been tied 1-1. The third tie breaker (total points) would have been 39-35 in favor of Pitt, with Solomon winning 3-0 at the time of the fall. So, Pitt still may have won, but that’s a little too close.
Nick Zanetta continued the positive momentum with a late takedown of his own. Losing 6-4 with 24 seconds left, the senior only needed a takedown to send it to overtime, but got much more than that. After hitting a six-point move (two takedown plus four nearfall), Zanetta took a 10-6 lead putting the match out of reach with just seconds remaining.
“I was just focusing on getting a takedown, anticipating overtime.” Slick transition wrestling from the takedown straight to the tilt was the difference. “I probably should have been a little nervous but I kept my composure. I really didn’t think I was going to lose cause I felt like I was controlling the tie-ups and I was doing all the right things.” Kept his composure indeed. Down 5-0 in the second period, Zanetta battled all the way back for a crucial win. Nick also believes this strong, focused team effort could be a leaping point moving forward. “The whole team on the bench was into it, the crowd was into it, it was really a lot of fun… It’s going to raise our spirits up for the second half of the season.”
Of the next four matches, three went to the Sooners. At 149 and 165 Robert Lee and Jake Wentzel both lost 4-0. At 174 Austin Bell lost 9-4 to No. 13 Yoanse Mejias. Taleb Rahmani, the ranked 157 pounder, earned the only win for the middle weights with a 1-0 squeaker. Now with Oklahoma winning 15-10, it became apparent Pitt had a pretty solid chance to win, being favored in two of the final three weight classes.
Gregg Harvey continued his solid season, winning 6-3 after giving up the first takedown, and moving his record to 9-7. Pretty good for a freshman, and with a ranked win in there from Cliff Keen. At 197, Kellan Stout wrestled better than previous matches, scoring the first takedown and competing well with the senior Dixon from OU. However, getting out from bottom continues to be an issue, and he would end up losing 4-3. It is important to remember Kellan was an undefeated state champ his senior year in high school and did not give up a single point in the state tournament. He is very good. He will get out of this slump. Nevertheless, his loss brought the team score to 18-13 in favor of Oklahoma, setting up a must-pin situation for Ryan Solomon.
“I’ve been in that situation a lot over the last three or four years,” the fifth-year senior proudly reflected. Solomon has made a reputation for himself over his career, winning and pinning with the match on the line. But to him, it was more about the team performance: “The whole team just went out and fought today. We were excited on the bench… everyone had each other’s backs… it was a great win.”
Solomon has been Pitt’s anchor over the last several years. He is going to be missed. “He enjoys that. I think he wishes every match came down to it like that. We’ll certainly miss him in dual meets next year. He’s a heck of a competitor and he lives for stuff like that.” It’s no surprise coach Gavin and Solomon are on the same page. Pitt’s schedule will not get any easier moving forward as they begin the ACC portion. When asked what the team has to do moving forward, Solomon responded “that[‘s]… what you saw today.”
Post Match Interviews
This “great win” was eerily similar to another marquee program win. Sunday was the second time in recent history Pitt upset a team from Oklahoma 19-18 with a clutch heavyweight performance. Anyone remember PJ Tasser taking down Austin Marsden in overtime to beat then 5th ranked Oklahoma St in 2014? Which picture is better?
Austin Bell and Mikey Racciato are doing the exact same celebration. Pretty close for Jodan Leen and Matt Wilps too. Hey, while we’re throwing it back to clutch heavyweight performances, let’s not forget Zac Thomusseit from 2012. Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzY6OuBOboI