Nittany Lions close in on another title

PITTSBURGH — Only a meltdown of epic proportions will prevent the Penn State wrestling team from leaving PPG Paints Arena tonight with its fourth straight NCAA championship and its eighth in the last nine years.

The Nittany Lions ended the second day of competition Friday at the 2019 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships with a virtual hammerlock on the team championship, sporting a 32-point lead as competition ended Friday.

Penn State has five finalists — Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174), Bo Nickal (197) and Anthony Cassar (285) — and 120.5 points. In addition, Roman Bravo-Young (133) and Nick Lee (141) will come home All-Americans, as well.

Ohio State, with three finalists and two more alive in the consolation bracket, has 88.5 points. Oklahoma State has two finalists, three in the consolation bracket and 73.5 points. Iowa is in fourth with 69 team points, one finalist and five in the consolations.

“I think overall the guys wrestled well,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “It’s competitive, a lot of great wrestling, a lot of great competitors and a little tight tonight, but it’s the national semifinals and you’re wrestling great competition. Big day tomorrow.”

Penn State went 5-1 in the semifinals, which gives it a 20-1 record in the last 21 NCAA semifinal bouts and an unprecedented 20 finalists in the past four years.

“Well, that’s kind of what I was talking about just staying hungry and being grateful for the opportunity and just going out and making the most of this opportunity, right?” Sanderson said. “It could go either way and you’re seeing one second here, one second there, it’s a fine line. A lot of it’s just about the decisions I think they make.”

After Lee dropped his semifinal bout, Nolf started a string of five straight wins for Penn State.

North Carolina State’s Hayden Hidlay, the former Mifflin County standout, pushed Nolf to the limit before ultimately succumbing, 3-2. Hidlay just missed a takedown at the end of the first period and at the end of the third. Nolf escaped to start the second and scored a takedown for his points.

“Hayden’s a great wrestler and it was kind of hard to get to his legs,” Nolf said. “I shot right away and had a sloppy finish and I didn’t get a takedown.”

Nolf will meet Nebraska’s Tyler Berger, who has beaten 10-4 and 12-4 this season, in tonight’s final.

Joseph edged Arizona State’s Josh Shields, 3-2. Joseph struck with a takedown in the first period and added an escape in the second. Shields could only muster two escapes.

“I got that first quick takedown at the beginning, and I was looking for other opportunities to score throughout the match, but he just kept coming. He’s really good from space, so I didn’t really want to overextend myself,” Joseph said.

“I figured it would be a lot closer the first time around. I kind of caught him on his back there, kind of set the tone. But he’s going to wrestle tough all seven minutes, and that’s what I’d be ready for.”

Joseph will meet surprise finalist Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech, the No. 8 seed, in the final.

Hall met Michigan’s Myles Amine for a third time this season and, once again, the result was a one-point Hall win. This time, the match went to overtime tied at 1-1. After a scoreless sudden victory period, Hall chose bottom and immediately escaped to take a 2-1 lead. In the second tiebreaker period, Amine could not escape and Hall emerged with the 2-1 win.

“Yeah, I just think it’s grit. I’ve been here, been in those positions, those tight ones. Experience goes in there, I think. So, yeah, I mean there is a lot of that. But at the same time it’s just, you know, being relaxed and keeping myself where I’m good and ready to go,” Hall said.

Hall faces a finals rematch with Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia. Valencia dominated Hall, 8-2, in last year’s final. Hall earned a measure of revenge with a 4-0 win in the dual meet in December in Rec Hall.

Nickal had built a 6-2 lead on Princeton’s Patrick Brucki, scoring three times on counter takedowns. After the third, in the second period, Brucki made a fatal flaw, getting his knee and head in close proximity. Nickal slapped on a crossface cradle, turned him, adjusted and pinned him in 4:41.

“I felt like I came out a little slow, was probably riding a little too hard. But I just kept wrestling, kept working through it,” Nickal said. “I think when I got the pin is when I started getting my second wind, feeling a little bit better. But he put his head close to his knees, so that’s over.”

Nickal will face Ohio State’s Kollin Moore in the finals in a rematch of the Big Ten final that Nickal won, 10-3.

Cassar became Penn State’s fifth finalist with another nip-and-tuck win over Minnesota’s Gable Steveson. Cassar scored on a slick counter takedown in the third period and accumulated just enough riding time, 1:01, to earn a crucial riding time point for a 4-3 win. Cassar, in his first trip to the NCAA tournament, will get a chance to avenge his only loss of the season when he meets Oklahoma State’s Derek White. White beat Cassar, 3-2, in the Southern Scuffle.

Lee earned his second All-America honor after going 1-1 on the day. He opened with a 4-1 quarterfinal win over Iowa’s Max Murin, a Central Cambria graduate. He then dropped a 4-3 decision to Ohio State’s Joey McKenna in the semifinals. A third-period takedown was the difference. Lee will meet Oklahoma’s Dom Demas in a consy semi this morning.

Bravo-Young went 3-1 on the day in earning his first All-America honors. He started with a 6-3 win over Cornell’s Chaz Tucker and followed that with a 3-1 decision of Purdue’s Ben Thornton to earn a spot in the All-America round Friday night. In that match he earned a a 4-3 decision over Pitt’s Mickey Phillippi to clinch his All-America status. Then, in the next round, he was dominated, 10-0, by Missouri’s John Erneste.

Bravo-Young will face Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak this morning for seventh-place.

Central Cambria’s Murin fell one win short of All-America status. The 141-pounder for Iowa lost, 4-1, to Lee in the quarterfinals. Then, in the All-America around, he dropped another 4-1 decision, to Nebraska’s Chad Red.