Pitt wrestling had its biggest crowd for a dual meet, but it wasn't enough as the Panthers fell to No. 5 Penn State Friday night, 24-12. The crowd was more than twice as large as the last time Penn State came to town as the teams wrestled in the Field House.
More than 7,100 people attended and it was a big time atmosphere. I had a chance to go and the lower bowl of the Pete was entirely filled up. Just really great to see and while Penn State definitely had a contingent of fans, Pitt fans showed up in big numbers, too.
Penn State won the first two matches, as expected, with Top 15 wrestlers defeating both Dom Forys and Nick Zanetta at 125 and 133 pounds respectively, for a 7-0 lead. Forys in particular did a solid job in trying to win his match, but fell short.
At 141 pounds, Edgar Bright made his return from injury. It was his first match of the year and he gave Pitt a much-needed win to cut the deficit to 7-3. Pitt's Mikey Racciato lost his matchup to Zach Beitz at 149 pounds, but the Panthers went on to win the next two with Ronnie Garbinsky and Cody Wiercioch picking up wins, cutting the lead to 10-9.
Penn State's Matt Brown and Pitt's Max Thomusseit, both top five wrestlers, traded wins at 174 and 184 pounds, leaving the score at 14-12 in favor of Penn State with things still wide open. The Nittany Lions would win the next two bouts, however, providing the final 24-12 score.
You can look at the final score and go a couple of different directions here. Pitt won four matches to Penn State's six and one more in favor of Pitt would have tied things up there. The Panthers were also right there at the end, trailing by only two points through eight of the ten matches. But when you look at the margin of victories in each one, things look as lopsided as that score indicates. Pitt won their four bouts by a total of eight points while Penn State dominated their six, winning by about 40 points and picking up a pin. The Nittany Lions had little trouble in their wins while Pitt's victories were much closer.
One, excuse the pun, bright spot was the return of Bright. But while he returned, Pitt's other injured star, Tyler Wilps, did not. Wilps came out in during the pre-meet introductions, but couldn't go, giving way to Troy Reaghard at 174 pounds. Even if Wilps could have wrestled, Pitt would have had its hands full with the No. 3 ranked Matt Brown. Still, the match might not have been as lopsided and maybe Wilps even finds a way to win.
The big problem for Pitt was that two matchups between ranked opponents that could have went either way went in Penn State's favor. Racciato was ranked No. 13 and he lost to No. 14 Beitz at 149 pounds. A win there would have, at worse, put the Panthers down only one. Pitt also lost another key bout at 197 pounds when Nick Bonaccorsi (No. 7) lost to Penn State's Morgan McIntosh (No. 5). The Bonaccorsi loss was particularly surprising since it wasn't even close. McIntosh picked up several back points early on, then did so again before pinning him. That put Pitt behind 20-12 and essentially ended the meet.
Pitt really needed to get one of those two to fall their way and that didn't happen.
Pitt still has work to do (a lot, actually) to contend for a national championship. But winning four of their ten matches on Saturday and going without Wilps in there wasn't the worst showing in the world. And considering the score was practically even after eight bouts, I lean towards saying this was a little closer than the final score indicated.
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