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No. 15 Pitt wrestling outlasts No. 23 Virginia for 20-15 win

Pitt’s final wrestling dual of the regular season was on Friday night with the No. 15 Panthers traveling to face the No. 23 Virginia Cavaliers. It was another dual that came down to the final bout for Pitt but they ultimately hung on for a 20-15 victory.

Big match for Pitt head coach Keith Gavin and assistant Jordan Leen, in particular, as both of those guys were assistants at Virginia before coming to Pitt. Ditto from the standpoint of grappler Micky Phillippi, who wrestled there before transferring to the Panthers.

Pitt got off to a good start with the lineup a little out of sorts. Things got underway with the 184-pound matchup and ranked freshman Nino Bonaccorsi easily won his bout, 12-3, giving the Panthers a quick 4-0 lead. At 197 pounds, Stout faced a top ten wrestler and lost a close match, 3-1. And at the heavyweight level, Demetrius Thomas cruised to a 20-10 win increasing Pitt’s lead to 8-3.

Stout is an interesting guy. He’s clearly improved over last year but he’s never going to really ‘wow’ you with his offense. Fun fact but in checking the recaps of the duals this year, the most he’s scored is six points in any one bout. The flip side is that even when he loses, it’s not by a ton of points - even against better opponents like the guy he faced Friday. I think his biggest loss this year was a 7-2 defeat. Most of his bouts are of the 3-2, 5-3, type of win or lose, and that obviously can be good and bad. When he loses, he’s not going to cost you bonus points. But when he wins, he’s not going to accumulate them himself. He’s become a little more than a toss-up guy, which is good to see. But he’s still on that outer edge of guys just outside the Top 20 in his weight class and trying to break through.

Moving to 125 pounds, Brendon Fenton had a tough bout with a top five wrestler, Jack Mueller. Fenton wasn’t going to win this one and the hope against any kind of matchup like this is to avoid being pinned or being majored/tech-falled. Fenton was nearly pinned in the first period, trailing 10-2 and then got more near fall points to go up 14-2 early in the second. And a few seconds later, picked up more near fall points to win. Fenton lost that one 18-2.

Bad match, obviously, but there comes a point where you take a tech fall since you at least save a point from being pinned. That tied the match up at 8-8.

Pitt’s best wrestler, Micky Phillippi was up next at 133 pounds and it was obviously a homecoming for him since he used to wrestle at Virginia. He had a tough time of it, though, gutting out a somewhat close 6-1 win.

It’s worth noting that Phillippi was dinged a point for hands to the face and Thomas was docked two points for that. You don’t see that called too often and Pitt was hit with it three times in the first five bouts alone. I don’t know if it was a case of just a fluky thing or if the ref was calling it more freely but it was interesting. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a dual with it called that many times — certainly not in only a few bouts. It didn’t happen after that so the ref either eased up a little or the coaches got into the heads of their guys to get them to be aware of that ... I’m guessing the latter.

With Pitt up 11-8, L.J. Bentley faced an unranked wrestler at 141 pounds. Bentley was really aggressive in this one, which was great to see. He secured a quick takedown then picked one up right at the end of the first period to go up 4-1 and hold on for a 7-4 win and 14-8 Pitt lead.

At 149 pounds, Dallas Bulsak got the start as starter Robert Lee is out. You might recall that the Panthers lost Lee as he was injured in Pitt’s dual last weekend against Duke. I was hoping he would return by this weekend but that wasn’t the case and I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be out. Bulsak lost 6-2 but it could have been much worse as he was nearly pinned at one point. Losing by only three here was somewhat of a blessing.

Taleb Rahmani was then up at 157 pounds, winning 13-9 putting Pitt ahead 17-11. Unfortunately, Tommy O’Brien was majored at 165 as he continues to fill in for Jake Wentzel, giving up back points near the end of his match. That cut Pitt’s lead to 17-15 and brought it down to the final bout to determine the team winner.

For Pitt, that meant it was up to Gregg Harvey at 174 pounds. And, let’s just say, it was quite a match. It wasn’t exciting if you like actual points being scored but the suspense of several near takedowns and the dual being on the line was more than enough to keep it interesting.

Neither Harvey nor his unranked freshman opponent scored a takedown and at 1-1, it went to overtime. Neither wrestler scored at all in the first four overtime sessions save for a couple of escapes. But in the fifth overtime, Harvey made some progress keeping his opponent down without allowing him to pick up an escape point. And in the sixth, instead of trying to do the same, his opponent started neutral, putting his hopes on getting a takedown. That strategy was unsuccessful and Harvey hung on for a close 3-2 win.

Harvey, I thought, showed a bit more in the bout. He was in on several shots but each time, he and this opponent tumbled out of bounds. It would have been a shame if he ended up losing it, in my mind. Not that he dominated but if you were scoring the match on ‘looks’, Harvey probably should have won it. That’s not from a Pitt homer standpoint. He just looked a little better in the bout.

The win gives Pitt a 3-2 ACC record and finishing over .500 in a difficult conference is a positive. None of the five ranked teams are elite but when you only have six in the entire conference and five are ranked, it’s not an easy slate. The Panthers’ only conference losses were to No. 14 Virginia Tech and No. 13 North Carolina.

The frustrating thing here is that if Pitt could have found a few points in the team’s three-point loss to North Carolina, at 4-1, they would have won a share of the ACC regular season championship with NC State. That one against the Tar Heels, you might recall, was right there for the taking, too. It was tied up heading into the heavyweights when Demetrius Thomas was upset by unranked Cory Daniel in overtime/Sudden Victory.

You hate to look back at individual matches like that but, man, just goes to show you that every single bout counts in a close dual. That one, as well as the others lost that day, wound up costing the team a regular season title.

Still, very impressive bounce back season for Pitt. The team was 13-3 on the year and the only losses were to teams that are now in the Top 15. That’s a far cry from the disaster that was last season and congrats are in order to coach Gavin, his staff, and obviously the team for making such a big turnaround so fast.

Now we get to see what kind of damage these guys can do at ACCs and Nationals.

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