Vincenzo Joseph tops Josh Shields, on to NCAA finals
There is something about the NCAA wrestling championship that brings out the best in Penn State junior Vincenzo Joseph.
The two-time champion punched his ticket to his third final Friday by edging a familiar foe: friend, practice partner from the Young Guns Club and Arizona State junior Josh Shields. Joseph won 3-2 at PPG Paints Arena.
He is one of five Penn State wrestlers to reach the finals.
The two former WPIAL wrestlers met in the semifinals, and Joseph used an early takedown to claim the win. Joseph, who wrestled at Central Catholic, will face the surprise of the tournament, Virginia Tech freshman Mekhi Lewis in the 165-pound final.
Lewis, who knocked off No. 1 Alex Marinelli of Iowa in the quarterfinals 3-1, defeated Wisconsin’s Evan Wick, 5-2, in the other semifinal.
Joseph (27-1) and Lewis (27-2) never have met before.
Joseph beat Shields earlier in the season 11-2. But both wrestlers knew this match would be a lot closer.
“It was a close match,” Joseph said. “We both wrestled pretty hard, and I had to be ready for some of the stuff he likes to do. I caught him on his back the first time. I knew that wasn’t going to happen again.”
Shields gave a quick takedown, which is something he has allowed a couple of times during the tournament.
“He’s tough to score on. He caught me off guard,” said Shields, a Franklin Regional graduate. “That’s a couple times I got (taken down) right off the bat. Obviously guys know to shoot on me.”
But Shields missed getting a takedown on Joseph after he fought off a shot.
“Vincenzo has got great hips,” Shields said. “You can’t finish at his hips. You have to finish low on his ankles or on his knees. It’s something I have to do a better job of.
“As soon as I get to the shot I had his ankle and knee originally, but he fights real hard and got it off. That’s routine for him, and it’s not routine for me yet. He’s a two-time NCAA champion. There is a reason he does that.”
Shields was able to get two escapes from Joseph, but he couldn’t finish his takedown attempt late in the match.
Now Joseph will focus on Lewis.
“I’ve never really watched him wrestle too much,” Joseph said. “It’s going to be a good match. He wrestles hard. It’s going to be exciting.”
Lewis, who entered seeded eighth, has been wrestling well throughout the tournament.
“I’m excited for the finals,” Lewis said. “I like competition, especially good competition because it will make me better. I feel he’s going to push me.”
Lewis would become the first national champion for Virginia Tech.
Shields, who will be rooting for Joseph to win another title, will focus on placing third.
“My hat is off to him,” Shields said. “I’m going back and working hard and coming back next year and win it.”
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .