Pitt put up a fight and had a few strong performances against No. 3 Oklahoma State on Saturday. But in the end, the team didn’t have enough, losing, 33-9.
As expected, things got off to a rough start as freshman Brendan Fenton had his hands full with a top five wrestler from Oklahoma State. He was quickly dominated and fell, 21-6 to put Pitt behind, 5-0, right off the bat. You don’t expect him to be too competitive in that match, obviously. But one thing I thought he could have done was be more aggressive offensively. He seemed to be playing defense the entire time and that’s not going to be a winning strategy if the other guy doesn’t have to face any threat of a takedown.
133 pounds was the highlight of the day for Pitt and easily the most anticipated match with No. 4 Micky Phillippi facing Oklahoma State’s No. 2 Daton Fix. Fix, if you’re not aware, is pretty good. In fact, he hadn’t given up any offensive points to a wrestler all season. You don’t often get top five matches so this was a treat. Phillippi did an incredible job fighting off three takedown attempts in the first period and nearly got a takedown of his own right away in the second after Fix escaped. And in the end, Phillippi pulled off a huge upset, knocking off Fix, 3-1, thanks to a late takedown.
Unless you watched it or have seen Fix all year, I can’t express how big of a win it was and it’s something the entire wrestling world will be talking about this week. Phillippi did an incredible job and deserves all kinds of credit.
That cut the lead to 5-3 but, unfortunately, the momentum was short-lived as L.J. Bentley came out and laid an egg getting pinned in under a minute to a top 15 wrestler. Yes, it was a tough opponent but that was really disappointing as it took the momentum away and also gave up six big points to give Oklahoma State an 11-3 lead.
Making matters was that, at 149, Pitt had another tough task with Robert Lee facing a No. 5 Oklahoma State grappler. Like Bentley, he was pinned in under a minute, putting the Panthers down 17-3. Again, just really disappointing.
You can lose bouts to guys like that and no one would complain. But when you give up five and six points in several bouts as Pitt did in three of the first four matchups, that just makes it hard to get a team win.
At 157, it was another disappointing result for the Panthers. No. 10 Taleb Rahmani faced an unranked wrestler and had a lead in to the third period. But he gave up a takedown and several near fall points on his way to an ugly 8-3 loss. Rahmani twice allowed his opponent to escape with little trouble and I thought that was a mistake. He didn’t make the guy work at all to get out. Rahmani, while ranked, has struggled a little this season against weaker opponents and, at this point, is probably ranked too high. If Pitt was to win the team dual, they really had to have that one. Unfortunately, the loss put Pitt down 20-3 at intermission.
Just when you thought things were completely over for Pitt, the Panthers pulled off a shocker with a pin by Jake Wentzel at 165 pounds over a top 20 Oklahoma State wrestler. That nearly cut the lead in half as the Panthers trailed 20-9.
But the Cowboys just kept rolling out top wrestlers and Gregg Harvey faced another top five guy at 174 pounds. Harvey, at least put up a strong battle in losing 11-3. While you want to win every bout, these were the kinds of losses Pitt needed to have to give themselves a chance to win. Giving up four points sure beats giving up five and six.
Down 24-9, we had another feature matchup with No. 12 Nino Bonaccorsi from Pitt taking on No. 11 Jacobe Smith. It was a really good bout but Bonaccorsi lost in the end, 6-4, after Pitt lost a challenge on a potential takedown late.
Kellen Stout had his hands full at 197 with yet another top ten wrestler for Oklahoma State. Stout surprised with a first period takedown but gave up a reversal in the final seconds on his way to a 7-2 loss.
Oklahoma State had another top five guy in No. 2 Derek White facing the Panthers’ Demetrius Thomas, who is ranked No. 13. Thomas has looked very good this season but had his work cut out for him today. He gave up two quick takedowns and quickly fell behind. He was competitive throughout, though, before losing, 9-7.
Overall, you would have liked to see it a little closer. But the reality is that Oklahoma State is stacked from top to bottom and even being competitive with them is difficult for most programs. Pitt’s program is improving but, as today proved, they still have a way to go to be elite. Still, while the score looked ugly, losing bouts involving Rahmani, Bonaccorsi, and Thomas were pretty close. Those flip and you’ve got a much closer match so I don’t think the final score was quite as indicative of the distance between these two teams. Sure, you don’t expect Pitt to take all of those matches. My only point is that they were close and ones that Pitt could have conceivably won on different days.
The silver lining here is that we saw Phillippi prove that he can compete for a national championship with the win over Fix. That’s not going to be an easy task, obviously, but Phillippi showed that he’s right there.