Panther-Lair – Bonaccorsi is fighting for the NCAA title

TULSA, Oklahoma — There are no style points in the NCAA Division I wrestling championships, so “winning ugly” to win the 197-pound title was no problem for Nino Bonaccorsi.

Bonaccorsi beat Rider’s Ethan Laird 10-4 on Friday night to advance to Saturday’s championship game and help save a very tough day for the Pitt wrestling team.

Micky Phillippi (133 pounds), Cole Matthews (141), Holden Heller (165) and Reece Heller (184) were each eliminated from the contest and the Panthers are tied for 21st with Northern Colorado.

“I’m really happy for Nino and your heart goes out to Cole and Micky,” said coach Keith Gavin after Phillippi and Matthews each missed out on a win from the All-American honors. “It’s brutal. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride.”

Laird scored the opening takedown against Bonaccorsi – the first the super senior gave up in the tournament – but the lead didn’t last long. Bonaccorsi scored a takedown and gave Laird a 3-2 lead after a period.

“I knew I had to make it a grinder match,” Bonaccorsi said. “I couldn’t be perfect with my setups or my shots. I wanted to go out there and make it kind of ugly. As you saw, I was taken down first. That wasn’t part of the plan, but I wanted to make it ugly.”

A quick escape and takedown a minute later extended the lead to 6-2. Bonaccorsi kept pushing the action, picking up a stalling point before the end of the second.

Laird escaped twice in the third, but a third takedown and drive time gave Bonaccorsi his second double-digit total of the tournament.

“He made this semi-final look pretty easy, but we know it’s not easy,” said Gavin, whose 2008 title at 174 pounds was the last time a Panther won a national crown.

Bonaccorsi returns to the final after losing there in 2021.

“It’s definitely a great experience,” he said. “Not many people can say they made it to the finals twice. I didn’t feel that way the first time, so God gave me a second chance to redeem myself. I’ll do anything to get out there and win this match.”

South Dakota State’s Tanner Sloan, the No. 7 seed, meets Bonaccorsi, who is 20-0 and the top seed, for the title.

Bonaccorsi advanced to the semifinals with a solid win over Big Ten champion Silas Allred of Nebraska. With his patented single leg-to-far ankle takedown twice in the early minutes, he built a 4-2 lead after the first half. Allred escaped and came close to a takedown but didn’t get it, a decision upheld on review.

Bonaccorsi needed an escape not to give up a driving point and scored it in third place with 34 seconds left. He came deep in a time-wasting shot that he nearly finished on the buzzer but didn’t get the two points, winning 5-3.

bloody battles

Matthews lost a heartbreaker to Penn State’s Beau Bartlett in the quarterfinals. After Handel escaped, the fight went into overtime and there were no points in the sudden victory period, despite Bartlett coming close in the closing seconds.

After knocking out Bartlett in the first tiebreak period, he opted for neutral for the second. He fended off Bartlett’s attempts in the first 22 seconds as they went wide. Matthews hadn’t been called out for stalling, so he only had to dodge Bartlett for eight seconds, but the Nittany Lion pulled off a takedown that withstood the Pitt corner challenge and gave Matthews a 3-2 return set.

The tiebreaker was no better for Matthews in the blood round. Against Ohio State’s Dylan D’Emilio, he gave up a run two seconds into the start of the third, forcing him to pick neutral in the second half of the tiebreak. He failed to get a winning takedown and lost 2-1.

Gavin was asked if Matthews hadn’t run away from Bartlett in the semifinals, especially since he hadn’t been warned about the delay.

“I think the bigger problem with Cole, and it’s obvious, is that he has to start pulling the trigger,” Gavin said. “We’re yelling from the corner, especially the last one, ‘You have to shoot!’ But I understand. He was rewarded for fighting like this. He finished fifth in that tournament, was an All-American for the first time last year, and it was the same: no offense, counterattack, and top.”

The good news for Matthews, who was a 2022 All-American, is that he has another year at Pitt. That’s not the case for Phillippi, who suffered a fourth blood round loss, this time a 5-1 setback to Virginia Tech’s Sam Latona.

For Gavin, those four losses will not define Phillippi’s legacy at Pitt.

“Micky is done and he’s had a great career here,” Gavin said. “Not only that, Micky has changed our program. He was the first to jump on board. He’s an incredible character. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to coach him. What he has done for the program cannot be overstated.”

Phillippi won two fights on Friday morning. He controlled Iowa’s Brody Teske from the top and earned a 4-1 win on ice before defeating Chattanooga’s Brayden Palmer 6-3.

Hellers went home

Holden and Reece Heller each saw the end of the season in Friday morning’s session. Reece Heller lost his second-round consolation fight in the fall to Rutgers’ Brian Soldano.

Holden won his bout in the second round, beating West Virginia’s Peyton Hall 9-7 in a sudden win

“It’s not the kind of match where you stick to a takedown,” Holden Heller said. “He wrestles much like me, and I knew it was going to be a war of wrestling.”

Unfortunately for Holden Heller, his season ended painfully a round later. Suffering an injury while wrestling Northern Illinois native Izzak Olejnik, he attempted to continue, but Pitt’s coaching staff halted the match when it was apparent he was unable to compete at his normal level.

Pitts Holden Heller suffered a rib injury that resulted in him medically losing his NCAA round of 16 game. X-rays were negative and he is expected to make a full recovery,” the athletic department said in a statement.

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