Pitt wrestling earns second place at ACC Championship

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Joy Cao | Staff Photographer

Senior heavyweight Demetrius Thomas earned his second straight individual ACC Championship title.

By Dominic Campbell, Senior Staff Writer

Hosting the ACC Wrestling Championship for the first time in program history, No. 8 Pitt wrestling put on a show for its home fans Sunday at the Petersen Events Center, placing second as a team and earning three individual titles.

Only No. 3 NC State scored more points than the Panthers’ 77, while 133-pound redshirt sophomore Micky Phillippi and heavyweight senior Demetrius Thomas repeated as ACC Champions. Redshirt junior Jake Wentzel also won the 165-pound title. Overall, seven Panthers qualified for the NCAA Championships — Pitt’s most qualifiers since the 2014 season.

Both Phillippi and Thomas entered as No. 1 seeds, came in with first-round byes and progressed to the finals with relative ease, as Phillippi won a close but controlled 1-0 decision over Virginia No. 4 redshirt junior Louie Hayes. Thomas defeated Virginia Tech redshirt sophomore John Borst 10-1 to advance to the finals.

Both wrestlers cruised to victory over No. 2 seeds in the finals, with Phillippi defeating UNC redshirt sophomore Jaime Hernandez 8-5 and Thomas beating NC State sophomore Deonte Wilson, 5-4.

Wentzel came in as the No. 4 seed and easily dispatched No. 5 Duke redshirt sophomore Benjamin Anderson in the first round with an 8-1 decision. 

He proceeded to upset No. 1 UNC redshirt junior Kennedy Monday in a highly competitive 3-2 decision. Wentzel trailed 2-0 in the third period, but got an escape and then a takedown of Monday to get the comeback win.

Wentzel’s championship match was close again, and he earned the win with a takedown in the second period to go up 2-1 over No. 3 Virginia Tech redshirt senior Darren McFadden. He tacked on another point from time advantage to win 3-1. 

What was most impressive about Wentzel’s performance at the ACC Championships was how he had lost to both Monday and McFadden earlier in the season, but was able to get victories to win the conference, which impressed coach Keith Gavin.

After the match, Pitt head coach Keith Gavin expressed admiration for Wentzel’s performances against Monday and McFadden — both of whom had beaten Wentzel earlier in the season.

“If you’re talking standout performances, it’s gotta be Wentzel,” Gavin said. “He came from a four seed and won the tournament and beat two guys that are pretty good and the guy he beat in the finals, [McFadden] he lost close in the dual this year, but previous times he wrestled it was not close, so he really made a big jump.”

No.3 redshirt senior Taleb Rahmani picked up another upset win in the 157-pound weight class. After getting a fall on No. 6 Duke junior Eric Carter, Rahmani fell behind No. 2 UNC redshirt senior A.C. Headlee, 3-2, but managed to get an escape, then a takedown en route to a 6-4 win and a place in the final.

Rahmani couldn’t overcome No. 1 NC State redshirt junior Hayden Hidlay, who cruised to a 13-4 win for his second straight ACC Championship over Rahmani.

The Panthers also had four third-place finishers in 197-pound redshirt senior Kellan Stout, 174-pound redshirt junior Gregg Harvey, 184-pound redshirt sophomore Nino Bonaccorsi and 141-pound redshirt first-year Cole Matthews.

Stout and Harvey both fell short of their initial seeding, with No. 2 seed Stout and No. 1 seed Harvey both losing in their first-round matchups. 

Despite the early losses, both had dominating performances in the consolation round. Stout defeated No. 4 VT redshirt sophomore Stanley Smeltzer 11-3 in the semifinals and then won 10-8 with a takedown of No. 6 NC State sophomore Tyrie Houghton in the bonus round. 

Harvey went from just missing out on the final to beat No. 6 Virginia redshirt first-year Victor Marcelli 8-3 in the semifinals and No. 5 VT redshirt senior Cody Hughes 7-4 to earn third place.

No. 3 Bonaccorsi and No. 4 Matthews both wrestled contentious semifinal matchups, almost beating their No. 2 seeded NC State opponents. Bonaccorsi took redshirt first-year Trent Hidlay to overtime after coming back from down two, but lost 3-2 on an escape. 

Matthews came back against redshirt junior Tariq Wilson to tie it at six on a takedown after trailing by four. Unfortunately for Matthews, he was called for stalling. With the match tied at nine at the end of the third period, Wilson won 10-9 on riding time.

Bonaccorsi tore through the consolation round, defeating No. 5 UNC redshirt first-year Joey Mazzara 10-4 and No. 4 UVA junior Michael Battista 14-4. Matthews beat No. 5 UVA redshirt sophomore Brian Courtney 3-1 with a takedown in overtime.

Phillippi, Matthews, Rahmani, Wentzel, Harvey, Bonaccorsi and Thomas all automatically qualified for the NCAA Wrestling Championships. Stout did not automatically qualify since he finished third and there was only one automatic qualifier in the 197, but he could earn an at-large bid.

“It’s huge,” Thomas said about the team’s progression this season. “We’re doing all the right things, creating a great atmosphere in the room. One of the highlights that we pointed out this year is that we’re progressing in the right way. Coming from a huge loss to Ohio State to beating the team that beat Ohio State, which is Virginia Tech, is huge just to show that we’re doing things in the right way and not just getting lucky.”

The NCAA Wrestling Championships will take place March 19-21 in Minneapolis.

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