Stakes raised for next Micky Phillippi-Luke Pletcher meeting at NCAA wrestling
Micky Phillippi doesn’t know how many times he’s faced Ohio State junior Luke Pletcher on the wrestling mat.
“Counting the practice sessions in high school, it was probably thousands,” said Phillippi, a redshirt freshman at Pitt.
But when they two square off at noon Friday in the NCAA Division I wrestling championship quarterfinals, none will be bigger. Their friendship will be on hold for a few minutes.
“We get to go again,” Pletcher said. “It’s cool to wrestle him, but he’s in the way. It sucks but, I have to treat him like everyone else at this point.
“We wrestled in high school all the time. What we really cared was the state tournament. We didn’t have to wrestle there, but now it’s a little different.”
Phillippi (22-2) and Pletcher (26-5) are arguably in the toughest weight class —133 — in the history of the event.
“This weight class is so tough,” Phillippi said. “Everyone has been talking about it, and it’s no lie. This is a deep weight. I’m just focused on my next game.”
Both wrestlers had tough second-round battles. Pletcher, who finished fourth in 2018 to earn All-American honors, used two first-period takedowns to defeat Wyoming All-American Montorie Bridges, 5-3.
“I felt I wrestled pretty well,” Pletcher said. “I feel good. I really do. I feel my shots are coming together. I’m picking up on things, like in match adjustments. I’m excited. I can’t wait to wrestle on Friday and keep moving on.”
Phillippi used a second-period escape and then fended off a couple of late takedown attempts from Iowa State freshman Austin Gomez for a 1-0 victory.
“It was a close one. He’s a good competitor,” Phillippi said. “I let him hang in there. I had two opportunities to finish a shot that would have put the match out of reach. I wrestled tough. There’s a couple things I need to sharpen. I’m moving forward, and now I can focus on the next guy.”
That next guy is Pletcher.
When you grow up about five minutes apart and you want to become the best, you find good practice partners. Phillippi and Pletcher always found each other.
“We tried to sharpen each other skills” Phillippi said. “Like Jason (Nolf) said in his press conference, you find a lot of outstanding wrestlers in the WPIAL.”
Pletcher was a three-time PIAA Class AAA at Latrobe. Phillippi was a three-time Class AA champion at Derry. Early on, Pletcher would beat Phillippi in close matches.
That changed their senior year in high school when Phillippi beat Phillippi in the Westmoreland County Coaches’ Association tournament, 3-2, in overtime rideout. Earlier this year at Midlands, Phillippi won again, 2-1.
“It’s a tough weight class, and I’m trying to score as many points as I can,” Phillippi said “I was trying to score, but neither guy took down where I could have scored back points.
“I just have to go out and wrestle. We’re so familiar with each other. We’re both tough competitors, so may the best man win.”
Pletcher and Phillippi aren’t the only big quarterfinal matches. No. 1 Daton Fix of Oklahoma State faces Missouri’s John Erneste, Rutger’s Nick Suriano battles Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak and No. 2 Steve Micic of Michigan gets Iowa sophomore Austin DeSanto.
But locally, all eyes will be on the Pletcher-Phillippi battle.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .