Pitt wrestlers Phillippi, Bonaccorsi, Thomas win NCAA first-round matches
Pitt’s Micky Phillippi felt the butterflies all too briefly as he walked out to wrestle the first NCAA tournament match of his career.
Then it was time to get down to business.
Phillippi, a Derry graduate, was one of three Pitt wrestlers to win their first-round bouts at the NCAA wrestling tournament Thursday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena.
A first-down takedown proved pivotal for Phillippi, the No. 4 seed in the 133-pound bracket, in his 4-2 decision over Fresno State’s Gavin Joint. He yielded a takedown to Joint in the second period but quickly escaped and surrendered nothing else to get the win.
“The kid’s good,” Phillippi said. “I mean, they’re here. Anyone in this tournament is good, and that’s the thing. You just have to go out there and it doesn’t matter. You want to win. So however that happens, sometimes it’s not the prettiest — I’m obviously not satisfied with that, but I’m going to try to just move past it and get on to the next one.”
Redshirt freshman Nino Bonaccorsi (Bethel Park) and junior Demetrius Thomas joined Phillippi as Pitt’s first-round victors, advancing at 184 and 285 pounds, respectively.
All three wrestlers are making their NCAA debuts: Bonaccorsi and Phillippi are redshirts, and Thomas is a transfer from NAIA school Williams Baptist (Ark.).
Bonaccorsi and Phillippi also are wrestling in their native Western Pennsylvania; Bonaccorsi said he had around 10 family members attending the tournament this weekend.
“I didn’t know what to expect going out in the arena and having all the fans cheering and the atmosphere,” Bonaccorsi said. “I was excited to go out there, and I felt great. It was an awesome experience, first match.”
Bonaccorsi had a strong performance both on his feet and top against Utah Valley’s Will Sumner, scoring three takedowns, two reversals and racking up more than three minutes of riding time in his 11-4 victory.
Thomas won an NAIA championship as a freshman at Williams Baptist, and he had a strong NCAA debut as well: The No. 8 seed at heavyweight, he beat Iowa State’s Gannon Grammel, 12-7.
“I knew that coming in, the first match would be tough,” Thomas said. “Every match is going to be tough regardless at the NCAA tournament. These are the best guys in the country, so no one’s going to be an easy match. But always in my mind the first match is the hardest match. You get your lungs blown out, get the jitters all out.
“But it felt great. I competed well, but I stayed true to my technique and the things I’m comfortable with, just kept going with the course and came out with the win.”
All three Pitt wrestlers advanced to Thursday night’s second round, which begins at 7 p.m. Phillippi will wrestle Iowa State’s Austin Gomez, Bonaccorsi will face Illinois’ Emery Parker, the fourth seed, and Thomas will take on Central Michigan’s Matt Stencel.
“I’ve been more excited than anything (to wrestle here), not even that nervous,” Phillippi said. “There’s always nerves going out on the mat, but they go away once you start wrestling. But it’s cool. This is awesome. We’re in Pittsburgh — hometown crowd, to see everyone I know. I’m fortunate to be here, and to have an opportunity like this … I’m just blessed and taking advantage of this opportunity.”
Pitt’s other two NCAA qualifiers dropped close first-round matches. Taleb Rahmani was deadlocked at 1 late in the third period of his 165-pound bout with Oklahoma’s Justin Thomas before giving up a takedown and nearfall points for a 7-1 loss. Mt. Lebanon graduate Kellan Stout lost, 2-1, to Virginia Tech’s Tom Sleigh on riding time points.