NCAA Wrestling Day 2: Franklin Regional’s Lee, Kittanning’s Nolf, Central Catholic’s Joseph reach final
With championship berths and All-American status on the line on all six mats, the NCAA Wrestling Championships moved into is fourth session Friday night at PPG Paints Arena. Befitting the spectacle and what was at stake, the NCAA announced the largest crowd of the tournament (18,100)
Penn State, which is pointing toward its eighth team championship in the past nine years, placed five wrestlers into Saturday’s finals —
two-time defending champions Jason Nolf of Kittanning, Vincenzo Joseph of Central Catholic and Bo Nickal, plus Mark Hall, who was a runner-up last year, and heavyweight Anthony Cassar, who will carry a record of 29-1 into the finals.
Penn State leads the team standings, 120 1/2-88 1/2, against Ohio State.
Nolf and Joseph will be joined in the finals by Franklin Regional’s Spencer Lee of Iowa, giving the WPIAL three representatives.
Just as he did in Friday morning, Lee got the evening’s activities started. He met No. 2 seed Nicholas Piccininni of Oklahoma State for the fourth time — this time in the semifinals — and recorded an 11-4 victory. Lee now owns a 3-1 advantage all-time against Piccininni.
Lee, seeded No. 3, will meet No. 5 seed Jack Mueller of Virginia, who upset top seed Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern, 8-2.
The Pitt/Penn State showdown in the blood round — where All-Americans are made — went to the Nittany Lions’ Roman Bravo-Young, who scored a 4-3 decision against Micky Phillippi (Derry).
At the end of the wrestleback match, Pitt coach Keith Gavin issued a challenge, believing Bravo-Young should have been penalized one point for hands to the face. But the decision was upheld and Bravo-Young earned All-American status and remained alive for a third-place finish.
Latrobe’s Luke Pletcher, the No. 5 seed, lost his semifinal match to top seed Dalton Fix of Oklahoma State, 4-2.
Penn State’s Nick Lee, who finished fifth last year, lost to Ohio State’s Joey McKenna in the semifinals. McKenna received one point for riding time at the end of the match to record a 4-3 victory. Lee finished the season 30-3.
Nolf (30-0) avoided a takedown in the final seconds of his semifinal match with N.C. State’s Hayden Hidlay and recorded a 3-2 victory.
“That match was probably not the best that I could do, but I gave 100 percent attitude and effort, and that’s all I really ask of myself,” Nolf said. “Just didn’t have the offense, but I got it done, and I will (Saturday). I’ll be ready.”
His opponent in the all-Big Ten final will be Nebraska’s Tyler Berger, who beat Kaleb Young of Iowa, 5-3.
In a battle of former WPIAL stars, Central Catholic’s Joseph (27-1) defeated Arizona State’s Josh Shields (30-4) of Franklin Regional, 3-2. Joseph will tangle with Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis, who advanced from the No. 8 seed to reach the final with a 5-2 semifinal victory against Wisconsin’s Evan Wick.
A runner-up a year ago, Penn State’s Mark Hall gets a chance to take that final step Saturday night after he recorded an escape in the second overtime to beat Michigan’s Myles Amine, 2-1, in a semifinal match.
In a wrestleback match, Latrobe’s Zack Zavatsky of Virginia Tech scored a 5-4 decision over Taylor Venz of Nebraska to become an All-American.
Pitt’s No. 13 seed Nino Bonaccorski of Bethel Park was blanked by Dakota Geer, a No. 26 seed, 6-0.
Also in the wrestlebacks, Penn Hills’ Ta’Shan Campbell (23-9) of Ohio State, needing one victory to become an All-American, worked into overtime before losing, 3-2, to Nebraska’s Isaiah White. Campbell came into the tournament as a No. 21 seed.
Pitt’s Taleb Rahmani dropped a 13-7 decision to Arizona State’s Christian Pagdilao in a match that nailed down All-American status for the winner. Rahmani finished the season 19-8.
Nickal (29-0) is back in the finals after recording his third pin in four matches in two days. He eliminated Princeton’s Patrick Brucki in 4 minutes, 41 seconds. The championship match will be the second all-Big Ten matchup after Ohio State’s Kollin Moore won his semifinal match, 12-4, against Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State.
Cassar received one point for riding time at the end of the semifinal match to defeat Minnesota’s Gable Steveson, 4-3. In the final minute, Minnesota’s coaching staff issued a coach’s challenge, claiming Cassar grabbed Steveson’s head gear, but it was not upheld.
A third consecutive full house — this time totaling 18,013 people — greeted wrestlers for the start of the quarterfinals.
The highly anticipated, oft-repeated 133-pound showdown between high school rivals Luke Pletcher of Latrobe and Ohio State and Micky Phillippi of Derry and Pitt was the highlight of the early action.
Later, Penn State wrestlers continued their assault on the brackets when the Nittany Lions’ six quarterfinalists — Nick Lee, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, Bo Nickal and Anthony Cassar — won to move into the semifinals Friday night. At the end of the quarterfinal round, Penn State, a team champion in seven of the past eight tournaments, led the team standings, 80-66 1/2, against second-place Ohio State.
After a scoreless first period, Pletcher, the No. 5 seed, scored a second-period takedown and made it stand up through the end of the match to hand No. 4 Phillippi a 3-1 defeat. It was only Phillippi’s third loss in 24 matches this season.
Pletcher (26-5) will meet top-seed Dalton Fix (33-1) of Oklahoma State in the semifinals. Phillippi moved into the wrestlebacks later Friday, along teammate Nino Bonaccorsi, who lost in the 184 quarterfinals.
Phillippi’s opponent in his first wrestleback match will be Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young, the No. 10 seed, who defeated No. 9 Charles Tucker of Cornell, 6-3, and No. 15 Ben Thornton of Purdue, 3-1.
Iowa’s Spencer Lee, a Franklin Regional graduate, moved into the semifinals at 125 with a third-period pin of No. 6 Sean Russell of Minnesota. Lee, the third seed, improved to 21-3. He will meet No. 2 seed and undefeated Nicholas Piccininni of Oklahoma State. Piccininni (33-0) moved into the semfinals with a 9-5 victory against Pat Glory of Princeton.
Nick Lee became a 30-match winner, but more importantly, a semifinalist when he defeated No. 22 seed Max Murin of Iowa, 4-1. Lee, the third seed, has won 30 of 32 matches this season. He recorded two pins Thursday to reach the quarterfinals, but he needed a takedown and a riding time point to seal the victory against Murin.
No. 2 seed Joey McKenna, who will be Lee’s opponent in semifinals, recorded two sets of near-fall points — a total of six — on the way to an 11-1 major decision against Minnesota’s Mitch McKee. McKenna is 23-2 this season.
Penn State’s Brady Berge, the No. 12 seed, advanced in the wrestlebacks with a 6-2 victory against No. 27 Tejon Anthony of George Mason.
Penn State’s Jason Nolf, the unbeaten top seed and a four-time All-American, had no trouble advancing to the semifinals with a 23-6 technical fall victory against Arizona State’s Christian Pagdilao, the No. 9 seed. Nolf of Kittanning will take a 29-0 record into the semifinals.
In the wrestlebacks, Pitt’s No. 12 seed Taleb Rahmani (18-7) advanced with a 7-1 victory against No. 11 Ke-Shawn Hayes of Ohio State.
Central Catholic graduate Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State moved into the semifinals with a come-from-behind 3-1 victory against No. 7 Isaiah White of Nebraska. Joseph, the No. 2 seed, has won 26 of 27 matches this season while looking to win his third national championship.
Joseph (26-1) will meet another former WPIAL wrestler, Josh Shields of Franklin Regional and Arizona State, in the semifinals. Shields, the No. 3 seed, blanked Bryce Stewart of Northern Iowa, 6-0, to improve to 30-3.
The 165 weight class went up for grabs when No. 1 seed Alex Marinelli of Iowa was upset by No. 8 Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech, 3-1. Marinelli was undefeated in his previous 25 matches and is the first No. 1 seed to fall in the tournament. Lewis, a Junior World champion, scored with five seconds left in the match.
Penn State’s Mark Hall, the No. 1 seed, remained undefeated (29-0) with a 5-3 victory against No. 8 Taylor Lujan of Northern Iowa.
Pitt’s Nino Bonaccorsi, the No. 13 seed, was blanked, 6-0, by No. 5 Maxwell Dean of Cornell. Bonaccorsi moves to the wrestlebacks with a 21-7 record.
Latrobe’s Zachary Zavatsky, the No. 3 seed from Virginia Tech, was upset by No. 6 Drew Foster of Northern Iowa, 6-2. Foster (26-5) recorded takedowns in the first and third periods to drop Zavatsky into the wrestlebacks with a 26-4 record.
In the wrestlebacks, Penn State’s No. 2 seed Shakur Rasheed suffered his second upset loss of the tournament, 4-2, to No. 26 Dakota Geer of Oklahoma State.
Another unbeaten No. 1-seeded Penn State wrestler reached the semifinals when Bo Nickal (28-0) defeated the No. 8 seed, Stanford’s Nathan Traxler, 13-4.
The last of Penn State’s six quarterfinalists advanced when No. 2 Anthony Cassar (28-1) defeated No. 7 Trent Hilger of Wisconsin, 4-0.
Pitt heavyweight Demetrius Thomas, the No. 8 seed, was eliminated in the wrestlebacks by No. 26 Ian Butterbrodt of Brown, 15-7
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .