Pitt’s wrestling team was back in action on Friday and fell short against the North Carolina Tar Heels, 26-10. It was a back-and forth match for a while but the Panthers ran out of steam once it got into the heavier weights.
The meet was actually much closer than the final score. The Panthers lost by 16 points but were roughed up in three bouts that went to overtime and changed the complexion of the meet.
L.J. Bentley got the team off to a surprisingly good start. The 125-pound class has been a problem all year for Pitt (2-8) with Bentley out early and even struggling when he returned. But tonight, he had a really convincing 8-2 win to give Pitt the early 3-0 lead over North Carolina (8-8). The Panthers kept things going as No. 11 Dom Forys rolled to a 9-1 win, getting a late takedown and holding on for a riding time point to give Pitt four more on the scoreboard, putting them up 7-0.
Next up was a tough matchup pitting No. 17 Nick Zanetta against No. 16 A.C. Headlee. Zanetta lost an absolute heartbreaker in overtime as he fought off a takedown attempt in the third but couldn’t in the extra period. At 149, Robert Lee was dominated, losing 17-3 but he actually did a few nice things avoiding a near pin and then holding off a late takedown attempt. That kept the damage to only four team points and we were tied, 7-7.
At 157 pounds, Taleb Rahmani had a tough test against a top 20 grappler for the Tar Heels, No. 16 Kennedy Monday. Monday is a freshman and has a really interesting build as he’s super long. The match went to overtime and, like Zanetta, Rahmani fell in the extra period, losing 3-1 to give North Carolina a 10-7 lead at intermission.
After the break, Jake Wentzel did an outstanding job at 165, winning 7-3. He picked up a lot of riding time (more on that in a bit) and, despite giving up a late takedown, still won comfortably and tying things up again in the team score.
One thing I’ve commented about before was Pitt wrestlers seeming to let guys away for escapes a little easily. I really liked what they did tonight in that regard as several guys did kept Tar Heels down on the mat picking up a lot of riding time and/or not allowing escape points. Jake Wentzel, in particular, did a great job of that in his bout at 165 scoring a takedown in the first period and holding on for a good bit of the period. He did the same in the second period, keeping his opponent down the entire time, not giving up an escape. Wentzel had nearly four minutes of riding time after only two periods.
At 174, Austin Bell was outmatched by No. 13 Ethan Ramos. Bell actually had Ramos in a tough spot in the first period and looked like he could have not only gotten a takedown but some back points but that would be about the highlight for him. If Bell could have kept this to a major decision loss, it would have been seen as a pretty decent result in my mind. Instead he was pinned and put the Panthers in a pretty big hole, trailing 16-10.
Gregg Harvey started at 184 for Pitt, trying to get the Panthers back on the board facing a top 20 (No. 17) wrestler. Harvey looked really good with a 4-3 lead and due to go down to hopefully get an escape in the third, but he gave up a really late takedown and found himself trailing 5-4 instead before he would go on to ultimately lose.
That put Pitt into must-win mode at 197 pounds to have a chance to win the team dual. Zach Bruce again got the start instead of Kellan Stout, who previously started but had struggled. Unfortunately, he had his work cut out for him facing another top 20 wrestler, Daniel Chaid. Bruce did okay for two periods but I didn’t think he worked too hard in the third when Chaid racked up several takedowns, trying to earn a major.
Maybe he was working and simply ran out of gas but Chaid seemed to be doing whatever he wanted late and Bruce didn’t seem all that interested in putting up much of a fight. He eventually gave up the major, losing 13-5, and was pretty disappointing. You’ve just got to battle harder than that at the end. The team dual was lost by that point but some of the takedowns he gave up late were borderline ridiculous. Stout has struggled this year but after that effort tonight, I’d almost think about trying to go back to him if not for the fact that Pitt’s coaches probably don’t want to shake his confidence and throw him back out there if he’s not ready.
Closing things out was heavyweight Ryan Solomon taking on an unranked wrestler, Cory Daniel. Solomon was unable to get any takedowns and that sent us to overtime. There, like Pitt’s other wrestlers, Solomon was beaten, giving up a takedown and getting upset.
The Solomon loss was particularly frustrating. As I said before, this season is about individual accomplishments at this point. Pitt had little from a team standpoint to fight for by that point but there was at least the hope that he could stay on a roll and keep moving up the rankings. This loss likely drops him, though.
Pitt lost 26-10 but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that things could have been different if Pitt performed better in overtime. If the Panthers win those matches, they win the dual. But credit the Tar Heels for taking every single one of those bouts and winning the meet.