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Pitt Wrestling

Jake Wentzel, Nino Bonaccorsi Win ACC Wrestling Titles; Pitt Qualifies Four for NCAA’s

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Pitt's Jake Wentzel grapples with Virginia's Jake Keating at the 2021 ACC Wrestling Championships in Raleigh. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

RALEIGH, N.C. – The last time Jake Wentzel met Jake Keating on a wrestling mat, the Pitt Panther bested his opponent from Virginia easily with a major decision. But on Sunday, with an ACC title on the line, Wentzel had a different strategy.

He was going to take Keating for a ride.

Wentzel racked up more than three minutes of ride time against Keating and notched a takedown in the third period to get a decisive 4-0 victory, giving the redshirt senior from South Park, Pennsylvania his second straight conference championship in the 165-pound class. Wentzel grabbed onto Keating’s left leg in the first period, and then stayed on top of Keating for the second and third period. Through each round, Wentzel’s dominance was apparent.

“He’s a tough wrestler. He’s real scrappy. He never gives up,” Wentzel said of Keating. “He’s one of those kids where, he’s going to take it from you. So, I just knew I had to be on my game. I knew he was going to come out and wrestle and try his hardest, so I just had to be the best me out there today.

“Top is my best position. Any chance I can get where somebody takes bottom, I’m always happy. Anytime I can get a takedown, I’m glad to ride. That’s where I’m most comfortable.”

Pitt’s Nino Bonaccorsi joined Wentzel at the top of the podium as both wrestlers claimed ACC championships in their respective weight classes on Sunday inside N.C. State’s historic Reynolds Coliseum.

It marked the first conference championship for Bonaccorsi – a redshirt junior from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania – after he had finished third and second in previous seasons. For the 197-pound title, Bonaccorsi handily beat Virginia’s Jay Aiello 10-4.

“It definitely feels great. It really feels nice in such a tough conference. To be able to come away with a win here feels good,” Bonaccorsi said. “I just wanted to wrestle my match. Obviously that’s a little cliché, but it’s the truth. I wasn’t going out with a specific thing in mind… It just gets me pumped up for nationals.”

It’s the sixth time in the last eight years that Pitt has had at least one wrestler claim an ACC title.

While Pitt had two wrestlers claim titles at the ACC Wrestling Championships, the Panthers finished far from first in the team standings with 45 points. N.C. State won the team title with 89.5 points at the end of the day.

In all, Pitt saw four wrestlers qualify Sunday for the NCAA tournament in St. Louis. Joining Wentzel and Bonaccorsi at nationals will be Cole Matthews, who finished third in the 141-pound class, and Micky Phillippi, who was a surprising runner-up in the 133-pound bracket.

“It was up and down. Obviously, those two guys winning, it’s a tough conference to win in. Cole Matthews has a lot of heart. We’re so proud of him. He wrestled one of his best matches all year in that third-place match,” Pitt head coach Keith Gavin said. “We’re just looking forward to nationals now. It’s been a weird couple of weeks for us with the COVID stuff.”

Pitt’s Nino Bonaccorsi celebrates his victory at the 2021 ACC Wrestling Championships in Raleigh. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

One of the most anticipated matches of the day was the semifinal bout at 141 between Matthews and top-seed Tariq Wilson of N.C. State. To get to the match, Matthews had to top Sam Hillegas of Virginia Tech with a 3-2 tiebreaker win in the opening round.

Wilson narrowly edged out Matthews at last year’s ACC tournament in Pittsburgh and Wilson needed extra time to beat Matthews in this very arena just a month ago. But Matthews couldn’t snap his losing streak against Wilson. The Wolfpack senior from Steubenville, Ohio jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, increased it with a pair of reversals, and sealed his 7-2 victory in the third period with a takedown. Each wrestler took turns tossing each other around in a heated battle, but Wilson came out on top once again.

“I knew it was going to be a tough one with Wilson. I’ve never beat him. You’ve got to go in there and just throw what you got at him,” Matthews said. “Our styles just don’t match up well for me. I give it all I’ve got every time, and I think he does too, he’s just gotten the better of me since I was a sophomore in high school. Hopefully, if I get a chance at nationals, I’ll tweak some things.”

Matthews was relegated to the consolation bracket, where he would have to get two wins to qualify for his second straight NCAA tournament berth. The redshirt sophomore from Greenville, Pennsylvania pulled it off, beating Duke’s Patrick Rowland and Virginia’s Brian Courtney along the way for a third-place finish.

After majoring Rowland, Matthews relentlessly attacked Courtney, taking him to the mat time and time again to open with a 10-3 lead in the first period. Matthews easily won from there with an 14-3 major decision.

“I didn’t really get down on myself going to the consolations because I was there last year. The coaches had me prepared for each match,” Matthews said. “I was in the right state of mind and I wrestled well and it worked out.”

Like Matthews, Gregg Harvey also fell in the semifinals, losing 3-1 to Virginia’s Hunter Bolen in the 184-pound bracket. Harvey fought hard in the consolation bout with a 10-2 major decision over Duke’s Vincent Baker, but he didn’t fare as well in the third-place match, losing 11-3 to UNC’s Devin Kane. Saddled with a 6-6 record on the year, Harvey – a redshirt senior – will have to hope for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament. His two wins on Sunday gave him a total of 70 for his career at Pitt. Gavin said Harvey has a “good chance” at an at-large bid.

Micky Phillippi was another wrestler who didn’t have much luck in his final match of the day. Seeking his third straight ACC title, the top-seeded redshirt junior from Derry, Pennsylvania was matched up against Virginia Tech’s Korbin Myers for the 133-pound conference championship. Both wrestlers were aggressive out of the gate, but Myers latched on to Phillippi’s left leg in the first period, tripped him up and drove him to the mat, notching a takedown. An escape in the third period and a display of elusiveness as Phillippi tried to take him down clinched the victory for Myers.

It was the first lost of the year for Phillippi (8-1), who is now 3-2 all-time vs. Myers. Phillippi – ranked fourth nationally in his class – qualified for the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, but another ACC crown was snatched from him.

“I think Micky will be fine. He and Korbin have wrestled a lot,” Gavin said. “It’s nothing that he hasn’t felt before.”

Pitt announced Sunday morning that two of its wrestlers were not available to participate in the tournament because of COVID-19-related protocols. The wrestlers were not named.

The Panthers did not enter a wrestler in the 157-pound weight class. Additionally, two youngsters – true freshman Mick Burnett and redshirt freshman Austin Cooley – represented Pitt in the 149 and 285 weight classes, respectively.

Burnett had an early 2-0 lead against No. 3 Ed Scott of N.C. State, but ultimately fell 3-2 in the opening match. In the consolation bracket, he was eliminated by Duke’s Josh Finesilver with a 4-2 decision. Meanwhile, Cooley lost 1-0 to Andrew Gunning, allowing the Tar Heel to notch a single escape in the opening heavyweight match. Cooley then lost to Virginia’s Quinn Miller 8-6 in a consolation match.

Additionally, Pitt’s Colton Camacho lost both 125-pound matches he wrestled in Sunday, falling 3-2 to Duke’s Logan Agin and 2-1 to Virginia’s Patrick McCormick. The latter match in the consolation bracket was decided by a stalling point, though Camacho seemed to be attacking consistently in the first and third periods.

Fellow redshirt freshman Jared McGill also had a short run at the tournament in the 174-pound class, losing a tough opening bout 8-6 to Virginia Tech’s Cody Howard, and then falling 3-1 in his first consolation match to Virginia’s Vic Marcelli, the victim of a late takedown.

Next up for Pitt will be preparing its four qualifiers – and any other at-large bids – for NCAA tournament matches in St. Louis. Matches will be held March 18-20 at the Enterprise Center in the Gateway to the West.

“Everything is so touch-and-go this year. It’s been weird,” Gavin said. “There’s just so much uncertainty, so we’re really going to lock down and focus on getting these guys healthy to nationals.”

Last year’s NCAA tournament was canceled due to COVID-19, so this one should be special for wrestlers like Wentzel, who qualified then but didn’t get a chance to take the mat.

“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid. I think every kid thinks about wanting to compete at nationals,” Wentzel said. “Everything up until then doesn’t really matter; the last three months, the wins the losses – it’s just those three days. Hopefully I get a pretty good seed.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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