The Pitt wrestling team won its fourth consecutive match Friday, and improved to 12-3 with a 20-19 win over Duke. Each team won five matches and each team had one six-point victory, the first two tie-breakers. Going into heavyweight Duke was winning 19-15. If Meech Thomas had majored Araad Fisher instead of tech-falling him, the final team score would have been 19-19 and gone to the third set of tie-breakers, total points. After 197 Pitt was leading total points 46-45, so a major by Meech would have also sealed the deal as well. “No.” He said when I asked him if he left any doubt.
Senior Night got off to a great start with Pitt recognizing its five members of the class of 2019. Riley Barth, LJ Bentley, Zach Bruce, Robert Lee, and Alex Murray will be departing after this year, each leaving a positive impact on the program.
“They’re great kids, and I think that’s the most important thing. They’re fun to be around and they’re fun to coach,” reflected head coach Keith Gavin. “They’re just good character people.”
Unfortunately, after the festivities Senior Night took a sour turn. LJ lost after getting the first two takedowns and Rob had to injury default after hyperextending his knee in what appeared to be a hamstring injury that Gavin described as “not good.” Lee is scheduled to get an MRI Saturday.
As mentioned, Pitt won five matches. Brendon Fenton got the team off to a good start with a 6-3 decision, and a Duke forfeit at 133 made the team score 9-0.
Duke has two sets of Finesilver twins in their starting lineup, which is believed to be the only instance of this phenomenon in college wrestling history. Josh and Matt are one set, and Mitch and Zach are the other, and they are all good.
LJ squared off against Josh, and after an exciting back-and-forth match with high level scrambles, a late takedown secured the win for the lightest Finesilver. Although losing on Senior Night wasn’t in his plans, LJ kept a positive attitude, and has his sights set on Virginia.
“It was great to have my family and friends out here. There were a lot of people who I haven’t seen in a while who came out just to show their support, and it means a lot.”
“At this point in the season it’s all about routine. Everyday should be similar to what you did the same day of the previous week. For me, it’s not about changing anything up, just going back in the room, working a bit harder, working on these small things, and staying positive. Don’t let your lows get you too low or your highs too high.” LJ also noted UVA’s starter is ranked, so that will be a good opportunity to boost his own credentials heading in to the post season.
Right now, LJ is deciding whether to pursue a career in logistics, or to stay at Pitt to earn his MBA.
At 149, Mitch is Duke’s highest ranked Finesilver and highest ranked wrestler. He did not come out against Lee, with Eric Carter taking the mat instead. Just part way through the first period, Lee’s leg was injured in a scramble, and after using his 1:30 of allotted injury time, could not finish the match. Most definitely a sad turn of events for the four year starter, with ACCs just three weeks away. If Lee is unable to return, one would suspect Dallas Bulsak to take his spot.
Taleb Rahmani notched a sound 14-7 win over Benjamin Anderson, but with his dominance of the match, ideally should have majored him. Same can be said for Nino Bonaccorsi, who also won by seven points. A high standard to hold someone to, but when duals almost come down to tie breakers, that can be necessary.
At 174, Gregg Harvey was in position to earn his second straight ranked win, after defeating No. 20 Daniel Bullard last week. Harvey scored the only takedown in regulation against No. 16 Matt Finesilver, but after choosing neutral to start the third, the match went to overtime 2-2. Harvey appeared to get a takedown in OT with approximately five seconds left, but the refs did not award any points, and Finesilver then got control for himself as time expired.
“I thought Harvey had control. Just because the guy is holding your leg doesn’t mean you don’t have control.” Gavin was not happy with the call and both teams challenged it; Pitt that Harvey had control, and Duke that time had not expired, assuming Harvey’s didn’t count. Pitt lost their challenge and Duke won theirs, making the team score 16-12 Duke with three matches left. Pitt was heavily favored in all three.
An upset at 197 changed the dynamic of the dual. Just one week after upsetting Malik McDonald, Kellan Stout lost to Alec Schenk, who was just 4-7 on the year. Like his win last week, Stout fired off a do or die shot with 15 seconds left and appeared to score what has been effectively dubbed the “Jordan Oliver” takedown. The refs did not see it that way, and since Pitt used its challenge at 174, could not appeal the decision. “Kellan just needed to get that shot off earlier,” critiqued Gavin.
This set the stage for Meech, once again. He has been a stalwart anchoring Pitt’s lineup this year, and except for the loss to UNC, has won it for the team every time he has needed to. “Not really, because I’ve had big losses before so I know how to handle it,” Meech responded to if that loss to Cory Daniel left a bad taste in his mouth. “At the end of the day, I keep my head up and just focus on the next match.”
Meech said he doesn’t know much about his opponents before wrestling them, save for the very top guys. “I just have to step on the line and wrestle.” Fisher’s record was 1-10 entering Friday’s dual, so Meech was heavily favored. Using a brutal series of blast doubles, and capping it off with a four point nearfall, Meech completed the tech at 4:24.
“He’s a heck of a competitor. That’s hard to do: tech-fall somebody when all they have to do is not get tech-falled. I don’t care what the skill level of your opponent is, that’s hard to do to somebody. He was excited for the challenge and that’s a sign of a true competitor.” Gavin knows he found a diamond in the rough.
Meech has far and away been the best transfer this season in all of Division 1. Austin DeSanto has been good for Iowa, Justin Oliver for NC State, Kanen Storr for Michigan, Dakota Geer for Ok St, and Korbin Myers for Virginia Tech, among others. But they were all known. Meech came from the NAIA and has been a buzzsaw since stepping on the D1 mat. His record is now 23-2 with multiple ranked wins. He is going to turn heads at PPG Paints Arena.
“[We’re] happy to have that guy.”
Pitt has one more match, next Friday at UVA, then it’s tournament time. Like LJ said, at this point, you can’t make many changes. Meech agreed: “Continue to work hard, continue to grind. Tweak the things that need to be tweaked.”