Even with Bryce Andonian out, Virginia Tech was the better team.
PITTSBURGH, PA — Pitt needed everything to go right on Sunday, and after VT took two swing matches at 125 and 133, the dual was essentially out of hand. Pitt wrestled well in seven bouts, was clearly out-matched in two, and suffered an unexpected shortcoming in one. The dual was tied 9-9 after six matches, and could’ve swung either way multiple times throughout.
With the 24-12 loss, Pitt falls to 1-1 in ACC competition (6-4 overall), with conference duals still remaining against top ranked North Carolina State, North Carolina, and Duke, and a non-conference match versus Columbia before beginning the post-season.
“There were a couple key matches we needed to win that we didn’t get,” Pitt head coach Keith Gavin said. “Give Virginia Tech credit. They have a good team. That’s what it’s like in the ACC. We’ll have another tough test next week against UNC. We have to keep learning and improving.”
Winning for Pitt: Cole Matthews continued his hot streak at 141, Elijah Cleary earned a dramatic overtime victory at 157, Jake Wentzel dominated at 165, and Nino Bonaccorsi cruised at 197.
The biggest surprise of the dual was sixth year Gregg Harvey getting worked over with a bar and getting pinned in the first period by 12th ranked Hunter Bolen. Also losing was Gage Curry in a tight bout, Luke Kemerer falling to fellow WPIAL native Sam Hillegas (North Hills) at 149, and James Lledo (174) and Jake Slinger (285) giving up bonus points to No. 3 Mekhi Lewis and No. 14 Nathan Traxler, respectively.
125: Gage Curry led things off with a nice takedown in the first, but ceded one as well. Sam Latona put on a tough ride in the third, and after getting a late escape, there wasn’t enough time to score for Curry, and the match ended 5-3 in favor of Latona.
133: Micky Phillippi faced off against long-time high school and college rival Korbin Myers yet again. They’ve gone back and forth all their lives, and this edition was as close as ever. After some great hand fighting and some back and forth shots, there was no score after the first, and just Micky’s quick escape after the second. That’s when the drama started. After a clear false start on Myers (his second), Micky was called for an illegal cutback giving Myers one penalty point. Myers then escaped with just four seconds to go before Micky had riding time secured. After a furious attempt to score late, Micky came up just short and fell 2-1. An extra four seconds of riding, not calling the cutback, or correctly calling three cautions, and it would have been 2-2 in OT.
141: Cole Matthews continued his solid wrestling against Collin Gerardi. After two periods of Cole working for offense from the front-head position, Gerardi took a shot and Cole was able to counter him to his back. The crowd immediately stood up anticipating a pin, but in eerily similar fashion to Jaydin Eierman’s identical move on Nick Lee Friday night, Cole was unable to keep control and no points were awarded. Gerardi escaped in the third, but a go-behind counter takedown gave Cole the lead. After a nice mat return, Cole immediately locked up a far cradle and almost got the fall yet again. It was an exciting match, and another good stepping stone for Matthews. “He’s a good wrestler. We need to keep him healthy,” Gavin added. The final score was 8-2.
149: Luke Kemerer took on Tech’s back up Sam Hillegas; Bryce Andonian, ranked No. 7, is the regular. Hillegas got off to a fast start with a takedown, and after riding parallel for 2:39, ended the first in control. An escape for Hillegas was all the scoring in the second. Luke chose neutral to start the third, and put up a really nice takedown, but there was simply not enough time to close the gap, and Hillegas prevailed 5-2.
157: In another toss-up, No. 21 Elijah Cleary battled No. 23 Connor Brady to the wire. Brady was in deep two times in regulation, but Cleary’s stout defense fended him off. “Positionally, he’s good,” praised Gavin. “He has good hips.” Brady got deep again in OT with a high crotch, but once again the veteran’s savviness paid off, and Cleary was able to counter with a cradle. Like Matthews, he didn’t have enough control for the pin, but it was an impressive display, nonetheless. With his two nearfall points, Cleary emerged victorious 5-1.
165: Jake Wentzel spent most of the match pummeling for double under-hooks, and midway through the first, came very close to body locking Clayton Ulrey right to his back.
Alas, he would settle for just the takedown. After a quick escape in the third, Wentzel kept going to work for that body lock, but was unable to generate any more offense. A stalling point on Ulrey and riding time made it a 5-1 decision for the Panther. Of note: after a VT challenge, Jake was called for the same illegal cutback as Micky, giving Ulrey his only point. Gavin mentioned he needs to get clarification from the head ACC official.
174: James Lledo was clearly outmatched by NCAA Champion Mekhi Lewis, now up a weight class. The Hokie’s offense was too much to handle, and a late takedown with back points made the final score 22-5, a technical fall.
184: Pitt fans may remember Nino’s exciting ride out win over Hunter Bolen at the Field House two years ago, and perhaps were hoping for similar magic again today. Unfortunately, things did not work out so nicely this time for the Panther faithful. Bolen took down Gregg Harvey early in the first. He then used a brutal bar-arm to turn 31st ranked Harvey and secured the fall at 1:33. Bolen is ranked 12th in the deep weight class of 184.
197: Nino was clearly the superior wrestler in this Sunday matinee’s penultimate bout. He dispatched No. 33 Dakota Howard 6-1 with two takedowns, an escape, and a riding time point. It was obvious to anyone watching Nino could have racked up a few more takedowns for the major if he had cut him in the third, but coach Gavin explained Nino needed some match experience riding, and decided to let him work from the top position.
285: Coming off a solid win over Quinn Miller of UVA, Jake Slinger had no pressure on him with the dual out of reach. Facing off against No. 12 Nathan Traxler would provide another tough test for the Upper St. Clair native, and Pitt fans were anxious to see how their heavyweight stacked up. Traxler was clearly better today, showing off two beautiful ankle picks, suffocating riding, and a four-point turn. He closed out a 12-0 major decision with over four minutes of riding.
Final score: 24-12 VT
Pitt will be back on the mat Friday, February 4th in Chapel Hill, NC for another conference showdown with the Tar Heels. Note: Pitt’s home match on Sunday, February 6th versus Columbia will be in the Peterson Events Center.