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Matthews gets upset win, but No. 19 Pitt wrestling falls at No. 24 UNC



Pitt's Cole Matthews battles with UNC's Kizhan Clarke on Feb. 4, 2022 in Chapel Hill, NC. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It all came down to the big boys.

Battling in a dual with No. 24 North Carolina, No. 19 Pitt needed a major decision victory from heavyweight Jake Slinger in the final match of the day to knot things up on the scoreboard.

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Unfortunately for the Panthers, UNC’s Brandon Whitman had other plans. Whitman notched a first period takedown and a pair of escapes in the latter rounds that gave him a 4-3 edge over Slinger. That clinched a 19-12 victory in the dual for the Tar Heels on Friday night inside Carmichael Arena.

The loss for Pitt (6-5, 1-2 ACC) was its second straight of the season. Additionally, the Panthers have now lost seven straight to the Tar Heels (8-4, 2-0) who are tied atop the ACC standings with N.C. State.

“Some of those matches – one of the recurring things is we didn’t finish our single leg. We had some close takedowns,” Pitt coach Keith Gavin said. “You got to bite down and finish those single legs. You don’t get many of them. So, especially in a tight match, you get an opportunity, you got to score.”

The heavyweight battle was the only matchup of the night that featured two unranked wrestlers. Each other bout featured at least one ranked wrestler, and five of them featured a ranked wrestler on each side.

The battle in the 141-pound weight class was mostly uneventful on the mat, but on paper it was an impressive upset victory for Pitt. After getting a first period takedown and an escape early in the second period, 17th-ranked Cole Matthews had a 3-1 advantage over UNC’s sixth-ranked Kizhan Clarke. Matthews held his own for the rest of the matchup, and captured a 3-2 victory, giving Clarke the first blemish on his record this season.

On the takedown, Matthews seized on Clarke’s right foot, reeled him in like a fish, grabbed him around the waist and forced him to the ground near the edge of the mat. A redshirt junior and two-time NCAA qualifier, Matthews has now won eight straight matches, running up his record on the season to 12-4.

“He did a good job of just staying focused,” Gavin said of Matthews’ big win. “It’s hard, because Cole was chasing him around a lot, and you got to be ready to not walk into something. He got a nice takedown and kind of controlled the match.”

Pitt seemed to have a chance at another upset in the 157 class, as No. 19 Elijah Cleary was knotted up 1-1 with UNC’s No. 6 Austin O’Connor late, but riding time was the difference and O’Connor left the mat with a narrow 2-1 victory.

Pitt’s Micky Phillippi battles with UNC’s Joe Heilmann on Feb. 4, 2022 in Chapel Hill, NC. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

In a surprising defeat, the Panthers also suffered an upset, as Micky Phillippi fell in the 133 bout. Ranked seventh in the nation, the redshirt senior was topped by UNC’s No. 23 Joe Heilmann in a 3-2 decision. Phillippi got on the board first with an escape in the second period, but Heilmann notched an escape and a takedown in the third.

Gavin challenged the takedown, arguing that Heilmann’s hands were locked, but the call was upheld after a review. Phillippi mustered another escape, but couldn’t tie the score. A two-time ACC champion and three-time NCAA qualifier, Phillippi now has a 10-5 record on the season.

“Micky didn’t finish that single leg. He was in twice, and the kid did the same roll. And he’s got to break down and finish that thing. It’s a desperation roll. It shouldn’t work twice,” Gavin said. “That was it. I don’t think Micky wrestled bad. He was the aggressor. He’s just got to finish that.”

The Panthers also took a defeat in the 184 clash, where UNC’s No. 21 Gavin Kane picked No. 31 Gregg Harvey up off the mat and slammed him back down to the cheers of the Tar Heel fans amidst a 17-8 major decision.

Pitt also suffered losses in 149 and 174 weight classes, where unranked Panthers fell to ranked opponents.

Pitt did capture a few solid wins elsewhere, like in the 165 bout, where No. 14 Jake Wentzel racked up more than three-and-a-half minutes of ride time in an 8-1 decision. The victory was Wentzel’s third straight as he improved to 12-4 in his senior campaign.

No. 7 Nino Bonaccorsi improved to 11-2 on the year, getting a 7-1 win over No. 29 Max Shaw, a Pittsburgh native. The redshirt senior dominated for much of the match and was aiming for a major decision, but didn’t get the ruling he was looking for on a few occasions.

“We could’ve used a couple more stall calls, but you can’t depend on that. We thought (Bonaccorsi) would turn (Shaw) with the bow-and-arrow, but it got stopped. He was kind of crawling out of bounds,” Gavin said. “That hurt, for the major, but Nino dominated. He did a nice job.”

Pitt’s Nino Bonaccorsi rides UNC’s Max Shaw on Feb. 4, 2022 in Chapel Hill, NC. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

Pitt grabbed the first win of the night in the 125-pound battle, as No. 31 Gage Curry topped Spencer Moore 2-1 in a sudden decision. Moore was flagged for stalling in the extra period.

The Panthers will aim to rebounds from its second straight loss on Sunday, when it hosts Columbia of the Ivy League at the Petersen Events Center. Finishing and being a bit sharper on takedowns will be Pitt’s focus over the next few days.

“We can’t act like, ‘Oh, we’ll get the next shot.’ We got to bite down and finish. It might be the match-winning takedown – you never know,” Gavin said. “A lot of times today, it was.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Tony spickel
Tony spickel
2 years ago

Gavin needs to step up his coaching

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