The No. 21 Pitt wrestling team opened its home slate on Friday night against the team’s toughest non-conference opponent of the season — the No. 11 Lehigh Mountain Hawks.
Lehigh’s lineup — consisting of seven top-25 wrestlers — proved to be too much for the Panthers (3-1) as the Mountain Hawks (2-0) cruised to a lopsided 28-8 victory.
“I think they outwrestled us in a number of positions,” Pitt coach Jason Peters said. “They just were better than us today. It’s just that simple… I think they wanted it a little bit more than us.”
The Panthers went down 4-0 early thanks to Lehigh junior Darian Cruz, the Mountain Hawks’ highest ranked wrestler at No. 4 in the country. Cruz advanced to 5-0 on the season with a 10-2 major decision over Pitt’s LJ Bentley, who fell is still looking for his first win this season at 125 pounds.
The next match was a tight contest between Pitt’s Dom Forys, ranked No. 8 in the nation, and Mountain Hawk Scott Parker, ranked No. 18.
After two periods, Forys led by three points. Parker narrowed the lead to two after scoring a one-point escape, but Forys was able to put the match away, scoring a takedown with less than 40 seconds left to win a 9-4 decision.
“It’s just setting myself up for March,” Forys said about the win. “These wins right now, they matter, they mean something, but whenever March comes around it’s really [about] getting on that podium.”
Pitt 141-pounder Robert Lee managed to keep the score close against No. 5 Randy Cruz, Darian’s brother, in the next bout. Ultimately, Cruz picked up a 3-0 decision, and after three bouts, Lehigh had a 7-3 lead.
The 149-pound match was also tightly contested, but Panthers senior Mikey Racciato was unable to upset No. 11 Laike Gardner, losing a 8-4 decision and giving Lehigh a 10-3 lead.
The Mountain Hawks extended their lead to 10 in the next match, as Pitt’s first-year 157-pounder Jake Wentzel suffered the first defeat of his college career to No. 15 Jordan Kutler by a 4-1 decision.
In the next match, Panthers sophomore TeShan Campbell — ranked No. 13 in the 165-pound weight class — dominated his opponent, winning by a 16-1 technical fall after the first round and closing the score to 13-8.
Campbell said the sport’s rule change before the start of last season allowing for up to four near-fall points at a time has been a big advantage for him.
“Getting to his legs I was able to just take him to his back and get a four count,” Campbell said. “Those are huge now. Before it was only two or three.”
In the 174-pound match, No. 20 Ryan Preisch helped the Mountain Hawks quell any momentum the Panthers were building with a 12-0 major decision win over Christian Dietrirch. Then, at 184 pounds, Lehigh clinched the victory with Kyle Gentile’s 10-2 major decision win over Pitt sophomore Mat Carr.
Even with the match in hand, Lehigh continued to pile on in the last two bouts. In the 197-pound match, Mountain Hawks senior Ben Hass won a 9-0 major decision over Pitt redshirt sophomore Zach Bruce.
The heavyweight contest was a low-scoring affair, as Pitt’s Ryan Solomon and Lehigh’s Doug Vollaro went into overtime with the score tied at one. Vollaro won the match with a takedown shortly into the overtime period. Solomon — injured on the takedown — laid on the mat as trainers attended to his left leg.
Solomon was in obvious pain as he limped off of the mat with the assistance of the trainers. Afterwards, Peters diagnosed it as a knee injury, saying that Solomon would miss at least the next match.
The team has a short turnaround as they head across the state to Philadelphia on Sunday, Nov. 20, where they’ll be looking to win their second consecutive Keystone Classic title.
“You’ve got to have a shot memory in D-1 sports,” Peters said. “When you lose, you’ve got to leave it behind you. When you win, you’ve got to leave it behind you. You’ve got to focus on the next competition, and that’s what I think we’ll all do.”