Penn State Wrestling took its annual trek across campus on Saturday night from the friendly confines of Rec Hall to the larger stage of the Bryce Jordan Center to square off with visiting Ohio State.
The two teams split the 10 bouts, but as is so often the case, bonus points proved the difference as the Nittany Lions walked away with a 20-16 victory.
As per usual, the dual started at 125 pounds with Brandon Meredith and Ohio State’s Malik Heinselman. Meredith put in a game performance, but a first-period takedown and riding time provided the Buckeye with the winning points as he grabbed a 5-3 decision to put his team up 3-0.
Roman Bravo-Young responded authoritatively at 133. Facing off with impressive OSU freshman Jordan Decatur, Bravo-Young was patience and wore down his foe on the way to a 10-4 win, only narrowly missing out on a major decision.
The featured bout of the evening came at 141 where No. 1 Luke Pletcher of Ohio State took on No. 2 Nick Lee. Both wrestlers entered the match undefeated and as the two favorites to meet in the NCAA finals next month.
Pletcher, a PA native, came out of gates like a bat outta hell, picking up an early score to go up 2-1 inside of the first 30 seconds. He nearly doubled that lead, but strong hips and solid position kept Lee standing and we headed to the second period at 2-1. Pletcher then escape to make it 3-1, but then Lee got rolling. He scored his first takedown of the match with a re-attack under a minute to go in the period and rode it out, forcing a pair of stall calls along the way to lead the match at 4-3 after 2.
He then escape early in the third to take a 5-3 lead and got right back on his offense, converting another shot for 2 and going up 7-3. Pletcher did notch an escape in short time, but a riding time point gave Lee a decisive 8-4 win and send the crowd into a frenzy.
Up at 149, Jarod Verkleeren continued his strong month of February. The former cadet world champ forced Buckeyes’ top-ranked freshman Sammy Sasso into sudden victory before ultimately falling 3-1. That tied to dual at 6-6.
Penn State fans received a pleasant surprise at 157 pounds with the return of Brady Berge. Berge, a sophomore, had been out while dealing with post-concussion syndrome. He took on Ohio State’s Quinn Kinner and took an early 2-1 lead after one period. Unfortunately, the lack of mat time showed late and Kinner used a late takedown and ride out in the third period to grab a 4-3 win, but Berge’s return to the lineup can only mean good things in the long run for both he and the Nittany Lions.
With the win, Ohio State held a 9-6 lead at the intermission.
After the break, however, the heart of the Penn State lineup went to work.
First it was top-ranked Vincenzo Joseph who, after giving up the first takedown of the match, pushed the pace throughout to earn a 13-5 major decision over No. 16 Ethan Smith, a Latrobe, Pa. native. Joseph converted a double leg as time expired to earn the extra point and give Penn State back the lead at 10-9.
Mark Hall then took center stage at 174 and, as Mark Hall often does, he stole the show. Hall locked up a front headlock and then hit a cement mixer to take seventh-ranked Kaleb Romero to his back for the fall in just 46 seconds.
That made the 16-9, but the bonus brigade wasn’t through.
At 184, Aaron Brooks continued to show why many think he could be an NCAA finalist as a true freshman. Brooks used a wide array of attacks to dominate his way to a 15-4 major decision victory over No. 12 Rocky Jordan. The four points put PSU up 20-9 and all but sealed the dual.
Shakur Rasheed continued to his somewhat troublesome return to the mat at 197, falling 14-6 to top-ranked Kollin Moore. Rasheed still appears tentative on his feet after returning from ACL surgery and he’s not had many opportunities to this point to show off his impressive top game.
Lastly, the Buckeyes picked up an upset victory at 285 as Gary Traub down Seth Nevills 5-4. Nevills led 3-0 in the second period after a takedown and nearly locked up a cradle, but Traub slipped out to make it 3-1 heading to the third. An reversal for Traub in the third made it 3-3 before Nevills escaped to lead 4-3, but the Penn State freshman also appeared to come up lame after a knock to his knee in the exchange. Traub then pursued the rest of the way and picked up a takedown with 20 seconds remaining to take the lead and riding out for the win.
The win wrapped up the Big Ten dual season for Penn State. The Nittany Lions went 8-1 in the conference, losing to only Iowa. They will finish the regular season at 2 p.m. next Sunday in Rec Hall against visiting American University.