All three seniors won. Nino Bonaccorsi took out the No. 1 wrestler in the country. Micky Phillippi continued his winning ways. The four big men came up clutch. Kellan Stout is 6-1 in his last seven matches. Demetrius Thomas did it again. No. 10 Pitt beat No. 7 Virginia Tech 18-13 in front of a packed house on Senior Night.
“You couldn’t ask for a better way to go out for those guys. They all won their individual matches; that was a very exciting dual they were apart of. Taleb’s match was big. We really needed that one. Then of course a lot of pressure on Kellan and Meech to come through. Super happy for [the seniors].” Head coach Keith Gavin thought his whole team wrestled well. “I thought we all wrestled really well, even the guys who lost. They were aggressive, really up and down the line up. I’m happy with the performance, especially at this time of the year.”
Nino’s win was perhaps the biggest story of the night. Hunter Bolen showed up as No. 2 in the program, but with Zahid Valenica of Arizona State now suspended, Bolen was really No. 1. Nino got the first take down, but conceded one at the end of the first and second periods. He entered the third down 6-2. After a quick escape made it 6-3, Nino got another takedown with about 30 seconds left to make it 6-5. He quickly cut Bolen to work for another score. Now 7-5, Nino got in on another shot with less than 15 seconds, and with just a few ticks left, was able to finish and send it to overtime 7-7.
After coming very close to taking Bolen down again in OT, Bonaccorsi started down in the rideouts. He was unable to escape, but Bolen got hit with his second stalling, giving Nino a point. At this point the easy money would be on Bolen escaping and sending it to another sudden victory. But no. Bolen almost reversed Nino – which would have been a devastating way to lose – but Nino was able to concede the escape instead. Then, this happened.
— Pitt Wrestling (@Pitt_WRES) February 23, 2020
It was the loudest the Field House has been all year.
“That was great… he broke through. He’s been close to beating a lot of those guys; he made an adjustment in the match, took the momentum back, and won at the end,” offered Gavin.
Pitt lost a team point during the overtime at 184 due to “control of mat”. With the dual now 13-11, Pitt would essentially need to win the final two.
As you already know from reading the first paragraph, they did. And it wasn’t that close either. Stout controlled Stanley Smeltzer 6-2 and Meech absolutely destroyed 18th ranked John Borst 13-2. That made the final score 18-13, and placed Pitt as the outright third place finisher for the dual season in the ACC.
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The tournament will likely shake out differently, but Pitt will be hosting it on March 8th, and entering with some confidence after the big dual win.
“It gives us that momentum, and makes the guys believe in that process. They’re wrestling well at the right time. The ACC tournament’s going to be a grind. There’re lots of teams that think they can win it. There’re going to be some great matches. We’re happy that it’s at Pitt.”
Louis Newell gave No. 15 Joey Prata a close match, but ultimately fell 6-2. Micky was solid as usual, beating 22nd ranked Collin Gerardi 4-1. Cole Matthews had an interesting match.
Facing No. 21 Mitch Moore in what was one of the toss-ups, Cole tried in ill-advised headlock in the first period that put him down 2-0. After giving up a reversal in the second, and getting an escape in the second and third, Cole was down 4-2. From the stands – and apparently from the bench as Gavin challenged – it looked like Cole had a takedown late on two occasions. Pitt lost the official’s review and their challenge, and Mitch Moore came away victorious.
For what it’s worth, Cole’s older brother thought it was a takedown.
At 149 No. 26 Bryce Andonian majored Luke Kemerer 10-1. Then at 157, Taleb Rahmani started it off well for the seniors in the lineup. Taleb was previously 4-0 vs BC LaPrade, but the Hokie is having a good season, and was ranked a notable 11 spots in front of Taleb.
In what was probably his best match of the season, Taleb wrestled a sound tactical match, didn’t let giving up the first takedown rattle him, was able to successfully defend his lead most of the third period, and earned a crucial win for the Panthers.
In another swing match that looked like Pitt needed to win (before Nino beat Bolen), No. 11 Jake Wentzel squared off with No. 6 All American David McFadden.
McFadden got the first takedown late in the first and took his 2-0 lead to the second. Jake was able to ride McFadden out for the entire second period, accumulating 1:42 of riding time. It may have been prudent for Jake to take neutral in the third.
With the score effectively 2-1, he needed a takedown to win. If he chose down, he would need to escape in less than :42 to preserve his riding time, but then still need a takedown. If he escaped after 42 seconds, he would still need a takedown. So, giving him the full 2 minutes to work for a TD might’ve produced a different result. But, as is custom in wrestling, Jake went down and McFadden returned the favor by riding him most of the period to win 2-1.
Gregg Harvey returned to the lineup after missing the dual last week, and he did exactly what his team needed him to. Wrestling a solid, but unranked Cody Hughes, Harvey went out and put together a strategic bout, and ultimately posted a 5-1 win.
Now 13-9 in favor of Virginia Tech, things were looking a little dire for Pitt, but as you already know, they worked out pretty well.
The four graduating seniors are Curtis Decker, Taleb Rahmani, Kellan Stout, and Demetrius Thomas.
Decker is from Spring Mills, PA. He got some time in the starting lineup, but primarily wrestled in open tournaments throughout his career.
Taleb is a four year starter at 157 and likely to become a four-time NCAA qualifier this postseason. Taleb is an ACC Champ, and has made it to the round of 16, 24, and 12 at NCAAs. The only thing left for him to accomplish now is to get on that podium. “It feels great. I’ve been here for the past five years, and to end with a win in the home gym is amazing,” reflected Taleb.
After he graduates, Taleb plans to fly to Algeria and wrestle-off for a spot on their Olympic team. Algeria has not qualified 74kg for the Olympics, so if Taleb wins, he will need to go to the last chance qualifier.
After originally attending Penn State for his first two years, Kellan Stout transferred to Pitt. He was a three year starter at 197, and qualified for NCAAs last season with an at-large bid. Kellan’s record of 10-8 this year may not jump off the page at anyone, but two of those losses were to top 7 guys in Noah Adams and Jay Aiello, and he was awfully close to beating both of them. Stout will hopefully avenge that loss to Aiello at the ACC tournament and get a second chance at NCAAs.
“It’s a good closing to my career. I’m very happy I made the switch, and I’m super grateful for the situation I’m in now.” Kellan had this to offer regarding the team’s perspective heading into March: “I think really good. We’ve progressed appropriately, we’ve been really good at home and that obviously plays in our favor with ACCs being in Pittsburgh. That’s a great way to close the dual season with a big win.” Continuing, “my skill set is coming together… I’m being patient and getting to the things I’m good at.”
Kellan plans to stay around town after graduation and coach his youngest brother Mac, who is currently a sophomore at Mt. Lebanon and ranked 10th in the country at 170.
Also a transfer, Demetrius Thomas came to Pitt two years ago as an unknown in the D1 world. But obviously the coaching staff’s scouting was on point. Meech was an NAIA champion for Williams Baptist and immediately made an impact in Pitt’s lineup. He was an NCAA qualifier last year, but did not place. Meech certainly has the talent and determination to this year, and like Taleb and Kellan, would love to end his career as an All American.
After finishing classes this Spring, Meech plan to stick around and train at the Pittsburgh RTC. His eventual plan is become a grad assistant where he can work on his masters degree.
“Winning just feels good in general. To do it at home, in my last dual ever, it felt good. I want to give credit to my teammates first, they set that up. They all wrestled well and they all wrestled hard. My teammates came through and I just had to do my job and win. We’re right there.”