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No. 12 Pitt wrestling upset by Virginia, 17-16

On Friday, the Pitt wrestling team was back in action against Virginia. The No. 12 Panthers (3-2) by the Cavaliers (2-2) in a dual that came right own to the final bout.

At 125 pounds, Colton Camacho continued as the Pitt starter in the first bout of the night. Camacho didn’t look great, unable to get much going offensively and being called for stalling twice, leading to a point for his opponent Patrick McCormick. But McCormick suffered the same fate and, 2-2 in overtime, Camacho got a sudden victory takedown for a 4-2 win, putting the Panthers up 3-0.

125 continues to be one of those real tossups for the Panthers. Camacho is a freshman and very much learning on the job. He’ll win some and lose some and most of his victories will likely be narrow ones. It’s not one of those weights you can go into feeling all that comfortable. But Camacho has found ways to win and you really consider those to be bonuses at this point.

At 133 pounds, No. 4 Micky Phillippi held on for a 4-3 win against No. 12 Louis Hayes. Hayes got on the board first with a takedown an a 2-0 lead. But Phillippi would escape for a point and then quickly get out for an escape at the start of the second to tie it up. He would add a takedown and go up 4-2, which is where things stood until Hayes got out from on bottom for a 3rd period escape point. Typical Phillippi match — nothing too flashy and just very technically sound all around. He had his hands full with Hayes, who was a bit more muscular but just was really solid defensively and had just enough for the win.

With Pitt up 6-0, at 141 it was No. 14 Cole Matthews for Pitt facing Brian Courtney of Virginia. Courtney was not ranked but gave Matthews all sorts of trouble. The only offense Matthews mounted through two periods was an escape after starting on bottom in the second. Courtney’s escape tied things up at 1-1 in the third and then gave up a frustrating takedown in the final seconds for a 3-1 upset victory.

At 149, Pitt’s Luke Kemerer faced off against Denton Spencer in another one of those tossups. Kemerer found himself down 2-0 after an escape by his opponent and a locked hands call. But he secured a takedown in the third period to push it to overtime. In the extra time, Kemerer scored a sudden victory takedown for a 4-2 win and a 9-3 Pitt lead.

The back and forth swings continued with Virginia scoring a 16-5 win at 157 pounds with Pitt’s Tyler Badgett being dominated by No. 15 Justin McCoy at Virginia. The match was never in doubt and it really was a matter of the Panthers limiting bonus points, which Badgett sort of did, giving up four in the team score.

With Pitt leading 9-7, we moved to 165 pounds. Here it was No. 11 Jake Wentzel facing off against No. 13 Jake Keating of Virginia. Up to this point, Pitt wrestlers had not necessarily gotten off to quick starts. But that changed with Wentzel scoring a quick takedown and then getting a second at the end of the period for a 4-1 lead on his way to an 11-3 win (buoyed by late back points), extending the Panthers’ lead to 13-7.

At 174, it was Jared McGill vs. Vic Marcelli. Down 2-1, McGill did a heck of a job keeping Marcelli down and refusing to allow a second period escape point. But late in the period, Marcelli scored a reverse for a 4-1 lead. McGill did escape quickly in the third to make it 4-2, but he ultimately fell, 6-2, closing the team gap to 13-10 in favor of Pitt. Then No. 16 Gregg Harvey for Pitt gave up an early takedown to unranked Michael Battista at 184 pounds and that set the stage for a frustrating 3-2 loss, tying things up at 13 with two bouts to go.

At 197, it was probably the most anticipated match of the night and it didn’t disappoint. For Pitt, it was No. 8 Nino Bonaccorsi facing the undefeated No. 3 Jay Aiello, defending ACC champion at this weight. Bonaccorsi was badly beaten in an upset loss last weekend and wasn’t given any favors with this week’s schedule. He trailed 3-1 but scored a heck of a takedown in the second to tie it at 3-3 before a relatively quick Aiello escape. But behind two more late takedowns, Nino scored a major upset over Aiello, the ACC champion, winning, 7-5. The victory gave the Panthers a 16-13 lead as we moved to heavyweight.

The match was a reminder of Bonaccorsi’s ability to constantly attack and he’s always a threat to score points. I don’t know where Bonaccorsi ranks in terms of overall points scored but he is consistently one of Pitt’s best offensive performers. This one didn’t even look like an upset — Bonaccorsi was simply quicker to the punch here and looked like the better grappler of the two.

At heavyweight, it was Jake Slinger for Pitt and No. 20 Quin Miller for Virginia with the dual on the line. Slinger merely needed to keep any loss to a non-bonus point defeat to send it to criteria for the decision. Unfortunately, he was handily defeated, 8-0, twice giving up back points to give the Cavaliers the thrilling 17-16 win.

You hate to see something like this as a Pitt fan, obviously. They came in as the higher ranked team but it also proved the depth of the conference as Virginia wasn’t even ranked coming in when they likely should have been.

Tough loss here. Most wrestling fans will focus on the individual performances and Bonaccorsi’s big victory was the highlight. But from a team perspective, it’s a big loss for the Panthers and one that proves that they still fall outside of wrestling’s elite. The bonus point losses by Badgett and Slinger proved to be the difference, though, obviously, they are hardly the only ones taking the blame. In the end, you can point any number of issues, including the upset losses by Matthews and Harvey, as contributing factors.

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