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No. 15 Pitt wrestling defeats Duke in thrilling match, 20-19

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Pitt’s No. 15 wrestling team pulled off a thrilling come-from-behind victory against an unranked Duke team on Friday, 20-19.

It was a back and forth match but in the end, the Panthers prevailed with an impressive win by heavyweight Demetrius Thomas.

Pitt (12-3) got off to a great start against Duke (2-8) with an opening 6-3 win by freshman Brendon Fenton at 125 pounds and a forfeit win at 133 pounds, to put the Panthers up 9-0. Then the momentum changed as L.J. Bentley dropped his bout, 9-7, at 141 pounds and Robert Lee had to forfeit with an injury at 149, tying the team score.

The Lee loss was really unfortunate. Duke’s best wrestler, No. 6 Mitch Finesilver (one of four brothers on the team with two sets of twins) sat out the bout so Lee had a pretty good path to victory. But early in the match, he suffered a leg injury and couldn’t wrestle. Pitt went from being in a position to probably take at least three points to losing six for a nine-point swing. Not only that, but Pitt has to hope that they don’t lose Lee for a prolonged stretch of time to go down another starter after losing 165-pounder Jake Wentzel to a season-ending injury recently.

Pitt got back on track briefly with a win by Taleb Rahmani at 157 pounds to go up 12-9 but Duke would storm back. The Blue Devils defeated the new starter at 165 pounds, Tommy O’Brien, then won a close, controversial match at 174 pounds against Gregg Harvey, who lost in the final second of an overtime period. Those bouts put Duke up 16-12 and in decent shape.

Both matches were important. O’Brien lost in a major decision, giving Duke four points. Harvey’s match against No. 16 Matt Finesilver was viewed by most as the matchup of the night. In the third period, he had the option of starting down, which most wrestlers would take. That allows them to pick up a point with an escape and, had Harvey chosen that and escaped, Pitt would have been ahead in that match and potentially won it in regulation. But Harvey declined that option and couldn’t get a takedown to win it, sending it to overtime, where he ultimately lost.

That decision will likely be second guessed. While you sometimes will see a guy decline if he fears he won’t be able to get out from underneath the opponent, most will not. Tough call but I imagine Pitt had their reasons for declining. But you also have to imagine if they would do it again if in the same position with Harvey down the road.

At 184, freshman Nick Bonaccorsi has moved into the top ten by virtue of a big win over No. 3 Nick Reenan last weekend against NC State. He easily defeated his opponent, 10-4, but new No. 20 wrestler Kellan Stout lost his bout 4-2, to keep Duke at a four-point lead headed into the heavyweight bout.

The Stout match had no small amount of controversy as he failed to record a takedown late. Stout went in with a double leg takedown attempt but didn’t get the takedown, to the dismay of head coach Keith Gavin. Gavin disagreed with the referee but had burned his only challenge of the night earlier in Harvey’s match. I didn’t have a problem with the Harvey challenge as a reversed call would have given Pitt a win in that bout. But it also speaks to how important it is to have those challenges.

Nevertheless, Pitt found itself down by four heading into the heavyweight matchup. And that’s where No. 16 Demetrius Thomas dominated for the Panthers. Thomas picked up three quick takedowns in the first 30 seconds, quickly cutting his opponent to get as many points as possible. Thomas didn’t slow down from there, accumulating three more takedowns in the first period to go up 12-5. And in the second period, Thomas kept it up, rolling to a 22-6 technical fall victory after some back points.

Thomas’ unranked opponent was in a tough spot but he didn’t help his cause at all playing defense the entire time. He didn’t have to win that bout, he merely had to keep Thomas from winning too big. He still may not have been able to accomplish that but had he taken some shots on offense, maybe he delays the match and prolongs it. Trying to go on the offensive may not have ended well, either. Maybe he goes in for a shot, badly misses, and Thomas gets around him for a takedown. But Thomas was scoring takedowns at will, anyway. You might as well try to fight back a little and try to keep yourself in it.

But, hey, from a Pitt vantage point, I’m not complaining.

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