What was a highly anticipated match turned into an unexpected rout as Pitt’s No. 13 wrestling team fell to No. 12 Virginia Tech, 27-6. The Panthers fall to 8-2 on the year while the Hokies improve to 6-2.
Things got off to a slow start since it was announced beforehand that Pitt would have to forfeit at 141 as L.J. Bentley was unavailable. Anyone that reads these recaps knows the forfeits are something that drive me crazy. You lose six points and I’d almost always rather send a backup out there to do something. Even if they don’t win, they can save some points in the team score. Some of this, I’m sure, has to do with not wanting to burn redshirts. But it’s just frustrating to give away six points right off the bat because you don’t have even one capable backup at least able to compete.
On the mat, Pitt didn’t get off to a great start, either. At 125 pounds, Brendon Fenton was beaten 5-1. At 133 pounds, Micky Phillippi is now No. 2 in the nation and faced a top 15 grappler from Virginia Tech. There, it was more bad news for the Panthers as he lost a close bout 5-2 in the upset of the night.
There were some controversial calls in the bout and I’m sure Phillippi probably wishes he could have that one back. It looked like he could have been a little more aggressive and pushed the action a bit more. My guess is he was caught off guard by his opponent with a near takedown and then an ensuing one that was challenged and ruled a takedown. But it didn’t feel like he brought enough on offense to me and Pitt found themselves down 12-0 after the forfeit at 141. It sort of felt like the dual was over at that point. You lose a perceived tossup at 125, give up the six points at the forfeit, and your top wrestler gets upset. To me, it just seemed like it was over at that point.
Robert Lee was up next at 149 pounds and the bad news continued as he lost, putting the Panthers down, 15-0. After that bout, things turned around a little for Pitt. No. 11 Taleb Rahmani struggled against an unranked wrestler at 157 pounds but ultimately got a reversal late followed by a takedown and won his bout to give Pitt their first points of the night. Rahmani continues to have lots of trouble this year despite a lofty ranking. His talent takes over as he can put guys in bad positions almost at the drop of a hat. But he nearly lost tonight and, despite a good record this year, has really not put guys away as easily as he probably should.
Pitt’s momentum was short-lived as Jake Wentzel, Gregg Harvey, Nino Bonaccorsi, and Kellan Stout all had tough tests at 165, 174, 184, and 197 pounds, respectively, facing top ten wrestlers in those weight classes. Unfortunately for Pitt, Virginia Tech took each of those bouts, turning this into a blowout at 27-3 and wiping out any chance of a comeback. The last two bouts were very close with Bonaccorsi and Stout losing by only two. But at the end of the day, they were all losses and ensured the final score would be an ugly one
Finally, at heavyweight, we had another Top 20 bout with Pitt’s No. 13 Demetrius Thomas against No. 18 Billy Miller for Virginia Tech. Thomas scored a quick takedown to go up 2-0 and then rode his opponent out the rest of the period. He was one of the few bright spots for Pitt tonight, winning 11-7. By far, his was the best performance of the night followed by maybe Stout’s close loss at 197. Rahmani won his bout but, as I mentioned, he trailed for much of it and needed a late flurry to avoid being upset. Overall, not a lot to get excited about from a Pitt perspective.
All in all, it was a pretty disappointing night for Pitt. You just figured it would have been more competitive.
Obviously, this isn’t going to go down as a bad loss as Virginia Tech is ranked No. 12 in the country. But when you’re on the wrong end of these lopsided losses, it’s not a great feeling. I expect if the two teams wrestled again, it would be a closer affair. All of the bouts, with the exception of maybe 125 pounds, were all close and most were within 2-3 points. On a different day, it’s hard to imagine Pitt couldn’t at least have gotten a couple more wins.
Like the Oklahoma State dual proved, Pitt has made good progress in the past year but still has a ways to go before becoming elite. It’s hard to get upset because the program is clearly headed in the right direction. But these kinds of growing pains along the way make it pretty clear that becoming an elite program isn’t going to happen overnight.
Next up, Pitt faces North Carolina at home next Saturday.