Franklin Regional graduate Spencer Lee advances to NCAA finals with another dominating win
CLEVELAND — When Spencer Lee was a freshman at Franklin Regional, he was the first in his class to win the Outstanding Wrestler award at the prestigious Ironman tournament at Walsh Jesuit High School.
Five years later, the Iowa freshman has been putting on a show at the NCAA Division I wrestling championships at Quicken Loans Arena.
Lee (24-2) rolled into Saturday night's 125-pound finals after he pinned No. 2 seed and former national champion Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State in the semifinals.
In four matches, Lee has two technical falls and two pins. He pinned Oklahoma State's Nicholas Piccininni in the quarterfinals Friday morning.
He'll face Rutgers's Nick Suriano (28-0), the fourth seed, in the finals.
Suriano and Lee met twice years ago at the Super 32 preseason tournament. Suriano won the first meeting as a freshman, and Lee was in eighth grade, but Lee won the following year.
Lee took that loss to Suriano hard and vowed to win the rematch, he said.
Suriano wrestled at Penn State in 2017, but then transferred. He's the first Rutgers wrestler to reach the finals.
Lee grabbed a 4-0 lead in the first period when he took Tomasello down for the first time in three matches.
Tomasello took Lee down in the second period to trim the deficit to 4-2, but Lee got two escapes and was leading 6-2 when he took the Ohio State senior down and pinned him.
“I hit a low shot and got in between his legs,” Lee said about the winning move. “I kind of stood up and I threw his leg off to cut the corner, and he held on hard.
“He was fighting like any competitor would do. And I just pulled his legs up and ran him over. He wasn't letting go, and I just sat on it hard and ended up getting the fall.”
Lee outscored his first two opponents 36-0; he was up 12-1 when he pinned Piccininni and 8-2 on Tomasello.
It looked like Tomasello was going to get a second takedown on Lee, but the Hawkeye freshman spun around and got a takedown.
“The coaches were telling me I've got to wrestle, you have to wrestle,” Lee said. “This is your match. You know, you trained for this.
“You're looking in that mirror; make sure you tell yourself, I did everything I did to be the best I can be.”
Lee said during his previous matches against Tomasello, he felt he gave him a lot of respect.
“I think I almost gave him too much respect,” Lee said. “The difference in this match was believing in my offense and knowing this is a stage where you can't really hold back and save anything that you have. You've got to use everything you've got.”
Lee wasn't in the Iowa lineup until after his impressive performance at the Midlands tournament early in the season. Now he's a win from being a national champion.
Ohio State sophomore Luke Pletcher, a Latrobe graduate, fell in his 133-pound semifinal match.
He gave up a four-point move in the last 10 seconds and lost to Michigan's Steven Micic, 8-4. Micic has beaten Pletcher in three of four matches.
Pletcher declined comment after the loss.
Virginia Tech junior Zack Zavatsky (Latrobe) dropped an 8-4 decision to Ohio State Myles Martin, who scored four points in the third period to pull out the semifinal win at 184.
Penn State overtook Ohio State in the team standings after a win by Zain Retherford (149) and a technical fall by Jason Nolf (Kittanning) over Micah Jordan of Ohio State.
The first four Buckeyes in the semifinals lost.
Penn State's Vincenzo Joseph, a Central Catholic grad, advanced to the finals at 165 with a 3-1 win over Virginia Tech's David McFadden.
Penn State's Retherford, Nolf, Joseph, Mark Hall (174) and Bo Nickal (184) are returning national champions.