While many of us were bashing our brains in over the remarkable suckitude of the basketball team, that OTHER team was putting a hurtin' on ye olde Fighting Illini of Illinois. The most remarkable part was that the two most questionable weights for Penn State picked up the two biggest wins, as 133-pounder Bryan Pearsall held on for a rollicking 13-12 decision of Illinois' Daryl Thomas and 141-pounder Adam Lynch decked 11th-ranked Ryan Prater in the second period. The Lions cruised from there and won the dual 24-11.
So what was there to like, other than muscled guys rolling around on the floor, sweating and grunting?
Pearsall, who'd mostly been a punching bag for opponents thus far this season with a 2-14 record coming in, jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the first period and held on late, staving off multiple shots by Thomas in the final 30 seconds. It was a really solid win for the redshirt freshman, as Thomas came in with a 12-9 record. Pearsall is still a long way from winning an NCAA title, but it was a great step for him and has to be a confidence boost going into the heart of the B10 schedule.
Pearsall was clearly out of breath in the third period, but for him to close out the win against a decent wrestler while gassed had to be something the coaches liked.
Then Lynch, a somewhat inconsistent type prone to getting caught for pins, but also game to mix it up with the best, stunned the 4500 fans at Rec Hall with a second-period pin of the No. 11 Illini. Prater shot, and Lynch was able to roll through on the attempt and found himself right on top of Prater's chest. The ref started a near-fall count, but Lynch was able to pull on Prater's legs and stick both shoulders to the mat for a huge pin at 3:56.
Following business-as-usual wins from Molinaro at 149, Sanderson at 157, and Vallimont at 165, Justin Ortega came out to take on No. 14 Jordan Blanton at 174. Ortega was recently diagnosed with some sort of irregular heart condition that zaps his energy, and it definitely affected him tonight. He clearly had nothing, a bad place to be against the very talented Blanton, and got abused for a tech fall.
There was even some positive in that performance, as Blanton nearly caught Ortega on his back three times during the match, and each time the gassed freshman scrambled out to avoid the pin.
Dave Erwin also nearly defeated No. 2 Ryan Dergo at 184 before falling in overtime. Erwin was thisclose to the upset, which wasn't necessary for the team but would have been huge individually.
Cam Wade also showed some offense at heavyweight with an 8-1 win over his overmatched opponent.
The major negatives tonight for PSU were obviously Ortega getting tossed around and Brad Pataky's performance. Pataky has been hot-and-cold all season, and tonight was no exception. He put on a clinic in the first period of his bout, pushing to a 6-0 lead. Then he took down in the second and couldn't escape John Deneen's ride for the entire final four minutes of time, eventually surrendering two back points to go with the riding points for a 7-3 win.
Overall, a good start to the B10 for the team. If they can continue to get competitive performances out of Lynch and Pearsall it will really help the team results in the conference schedule and at Big Tens.
Of course, none of this is good enough for Cael.
"We were a little tired, which was a little uncharacteristic for us," Sanderson said. "But it'll pay off in the long run. We're not real happy with our performance."
"It was a frustrating night, to say the least," Sanderson said, "but I gotta take responsibility for that. We went out and got the win, though."
Next up: a Sunday matinee with the Buckeyes in Columbus. Expect a pretty good whoopin' by the scarlet-and-gray.