For the first time, Pitt competed in the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden in New York City on Thursday.
On a stage bigger than ever inside “the world’s most famous arena,” it would be unfair to blame Pitt’s 133-pounder Dom Forys for starting a little slow on Day 1 of the tournament.
Although a successful 24-2 season earned him a No. 11 seed, the star sophomore out of North Allegheny High School entered the tournament looking for his first win at the NCAA Championships. And with his first-round match vs. Northwestern senior Dominick Malone still scoreless with less than a minute left, Forys didn’t appear to be his usual dominant self.
But with time winding down in the first period, Forys scored the first points of the match on a throw-by takedown, and stayed on top the rest of the period to take a 2-0 lead.
Forys chose to start the second period on bottom, and escaped to his feet to take a 3-0 lead about 30 seconds into the period. Almost as soon as the wrestlers stood up, Forys was in on another successful takedown, and this time he had Malone trapped. Already holding a 5-0 lead with four more nearfall points coming, Forys looked to cap off his first tournament win in style.
“Get the pin, Forys! It’s there!” Pitt coach Jason Peters audibly yelled from his chair. “Fifty seconds, plenty of time!”
Sure enough, Forys sunk his hold a little tighter, and Malone had nowhere to go. With 38 seconds left in the second period, Forys scored the pin to earn his first win at the NCAA Championships and move on to the second round of the tournament.
Forys’ second-round match was a rematch of the ACC Championship match against sixth-seeded George DiCamillo of Virginia. DiCamillo won that meeting 8-4, but Forys led this matchup 2-1 to start the second period.
Forys escaped to take a 3-1 lead, but gave up a takedown to tie the score. DiCamillo then escaped early in the third period, and Forys could not come back, losing a 4-3 decision. He will take on Central Michigan’s Corey Keener in the consolation round Friday morning.
Meanwhile, Pitt’s 174-pound true freshman TeShan Campbell came up just short in his first round match against 10th-seeded Mike Ottinger of Central Michigan. But Campbell was resilient, just as he was when winning the PIAA 170-pound championship last year as a senior at Penn Hills High School.
In that tournament, Campbell suffered a sprained MCL in his semifinal match, but still managed to advance and limp his way through a 4-2 decision in the finals to win the state championship.
But as tough as winning a state championship in Pennsylvania is, that was still high school. These are the NCAA Championships, and Campbell’s opponent this time was just too tough and too experienced to overcome.
After a scoreless first period, Campbell chose to start the second period on bottom and escaped to take a 1-0 lead, but the advantage didn’t last long. Ottinger, a redshirt senior and two-time MAC champion, quickly scored a takedown to go up 2-1, and Campbell appeared to come up limping after the wrestlers went out of bounds. It wasn’t clear if he had re-injured his MCL or not.
Late in the period, Campbell escaped back to his feet again to tie the match, 2-2, heading into the third period. But he appeared hampered and Ottinger got to start the third period on bottom. Ottinger quickly escaped to take a 3-2 lead, and tried to defend Campbell’s takedown attempts for the rest of the period.
Clearly in pain, Campbell never stopped shooting until the final whistle, even coming close to scoring a winning takedown in the final seconds. But veteran Ottinger held on to win the match by one point and send Campbell down into the consolation bracket.
Campbell seemed to be OK though for his match vs. South Dakota State’s David Kocer in the first round of wrestlebacks, showing no signs of a limp while scoring a quick takedown to take a 2-0 lead.
The score was tied 3-3 entering the second period, but Campbell appeared to take control with a takedown on the edge of the mat. Kocer scored one point for an escape, but Campbell already had more than two minutes of riding time locked up as a bonus point.
An escape to start the third period gave Campbell a 6-4 lead, but with riding time factored in, it was effectively like 7-4. Kocer scored a late takedown and managed to put Campbell on his back for a four-point nearfall in the last 30 seconds, coming from behind to knock off Campbell, 10-7.
In the tournament’s first round, 125-pound true freshman L.J. Bentley held his own, but fell just short in a 5-2 decision vs. 10th-seeded Connor Schram of Stanford. Then, in the first round of wrestlebacks, Bentley faced Wisconsin’s Johnny Jimenez in a rematch of Bentley’s 14-12 win on Dec. 12.
Early in the first period, Jimenez appeared to injure his left shoulder. He fought through the pain and finished out the match, but Bentley was in total control this time around.
With quick takedowns, Bentley rolled to a 12-4 major decision for his first career win at the NCAA Tournament. He moves on to the next round of wrestlebacks Friday morning, where he will face Missouri’s Barlow McGhee.
Elsewhere in first-round action, Pitt’s 165-pound redshirt sophomore Cody Wiercioch dropped a 6-0 decision to 10th-seeded Austin Wilson of Nebraska. Wiercioch then lost a 6-1 decision to Appalachian State’s Forrest Przybysz in the first round of wrestlebacks.
The 197-pound redshirt senior Nick Bonaccorsi dropped an 8-0 major decision in his first-round matchup with No. 5 Conner Hartmann of Duke. Bonaccorsi then dropped a 6-0 decision to North Carolina’s Chip Ness in the first round of wrestlebacks.
Earlier in the day, Pitt’s 285-pound sophomore Ryan Solomon dropped an 8-2 decision to Nebraska’s Collin Jensen. Solomon then lost to No. 12 Billy Smith of Rutgers in the first round of wrestlebacks, 3-0.
Forys and Bentley will wrestle in consolation matches tomorrow morning, as the Pitt wrestling season will conclude without any NCAA champions.