PRINCETON, N.J. – After entering day two of the EIWA Championships 17.5 points behind Cornell, Lehigh battled back into title contention. The Mountain Hawks won their first three finals bouts, to take the lead, but the Big Red regained the lead Lehigh had to settle for second place by a mere 2.5 points, as Cornell won its sixth straight tile 151.5-149 Sunday at Jadwin Gym.
Junior Robert Hamlin gave the Mountain Hawks the lead by capturing his second straight EIWA title at 184, but Cam Simaz gave Cornell the lead back with the title at 197. The team championship came down to the final bout at heavyweight, but needing a win to clinch Lehigh’s first team title since 2006, senior Zach Rey dropped a 3-1 sudden victory decision to Ryan Flores of American.
“We had a really good tournament,” said Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro. “Ten guys placed. We had three champs. I’m pleased. Did we want to win? Sure. We wrestled hard to get into this position and had some things go our way. We did everything we could and I thought we wrestled well.”
Cornell appeared to be in firm control of the team race after one day, but Lehigh was allowed back in the mix Sunday morning after Big Red freshman Billy George was disqualified from the tournament for flagrant misconduct after kneeing Lehigh freshman Nate Brown in the head moments after Brown’s 2-1 win in a consolation semifinal at 174. The disqualification resulted in two bonus points for the Mountain Hawks and a loss of all of George’s team points for Cornell, as Lehigh actually led the Big Red by half a point before the start of the consolation finals and placement matches.
The Big Red’s 2.5 point lead after Sunday’s morning session grew to 6.5 when Frank Perrelli captured the title at 125. Cornell’s Mike Nevinger lost at 141, allowing Lehigh’s first finalist, junior Shane Welsh to try to gain ground on the Big Red in his 149-pound finals match against American’s Kevin Tao. Welsh, the No. 6 seed, has continued to improve as the season progressed and showed his improvement with a 4-0 decision over Tao to capture Lehigh’s first title of the day. Welsh escaped to open the second period, before taking down Tao and riding out. He led 3-0 after two periods and tacked on the riding time point to secure the win.
After Cornell re-extended its lead to 6.5 with Kyle Dake’s title at 157, senior Brandon Hatchett helped the Mountain Hawks keep pace with a 4-2 sudden victory decision over Scott Winston of Rutgers. Winston scored first, countering a Hatchett shot in the first period, but after an escape, Hatchett pulled even with a third-period escape. Hatchett was the aggressor throughout the match, but in sudden victory, he countered a weak Winston shot by spinning behind for the winning score, to clinch his first EIWA title.
Two bouts later, Hamlin took to the mats against rival Steve Bosak looking to give the Mountain Hawks the lead. In a rematch from last year’s EIWA finals, Hamlin chose down after a scoreless first period and escaped in just under 40 seconds to take the lead. Bosak evened things up with an escape but Hamlin got in on a shot in the final minute and took Bosak down to take the lead. Bosak escaped to make the score 3-2 but Hamlin was able to successfully defend in the final seconds. Hamlin’s win put Lehigh up by 1.5 points with two matches remaining and one remaining finalist for both Lehigh and Cornell.
Simaz won his match at 197 setting up the scenario at heavyweight where Rey could win the title for Lehigh with a victory over Flores. In their third EIWA finals meeting, overtime was once again needed after a 1-1 battle through regulation. A wild scramble ensued with both wrestlers having opportunities to score, but Flores was able to spin on top of Rey with seven seconds remaining for the winning takedown in a 3-1 win.
“The guys in the finals came out and did what they needed to do,” Santoro said. “Zach and Flores have wrestled so many times, its going to be back-and-forth every time. Zach needs to be more aggressive and do more work during the first two periods. He let Flores off the hook early and it have him some confidence and when you get into overtime, anything can happen.”
Six Mountain Hawks wrestled in Sunday’s morning session. Sophomore Steve Dutton and senior Joe Kennedy both went 2-0 to place third at 141 and 197 respectively. Dutton opened his day with a seven point win over Franklin & Marshall’s Richard Durso before downing Billy Ashnault of Rutgers 7-3 to claim third. Kennedy finally defeated nemesis Dan Mitchell of American 2-0 with a second period escape, plus riding time, to clinch his NCAA tournament berth. In the third-place match, Kenendy scored an early five-point move and led 7-2 after one period before downing Rutgers’ Dan Rinaldi 9-3.
Both of Lehigh’s true freshmen settled for fourth place. At 133, Mason Beckman won his first bout 4-2 over Kyle Gilchrist of Columbia, but lost his rematch with Harvard’s Steven Keith 4-2 in the second sudden victory period. Beckman struck first with a takedown in the first period, before Keith scored one of his own in the second. After one round of scoreless overtimes, Keith finally took Beckman down on the edge in the tenth minute of wrestling to claim third place.
Brown forfeited his third place match at 174 after taking the knee to the head from George. He still secured a berth at NCAAs as the top four finishers in the EIWA gained automatic qualification.
After clinching an NCAA berth on Saturday, Brian Tanen suffered a pair of losses on Sunday, settling for sixth place at 157. Sophomore Alex Abreu also competed on Sunday, dropping a 10-0 major decision to Scott Filbert of Army as he settled for eighth place at 125.
Despite Lehigh’s second place finish, Santoro was recognized by his peers as the EIWA Coach of the Year, his second award in four seasons. Simaz, who captured the Fletcher Trophy for most career points, was also named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler after winning his fourth title.
“Ten guys placed and we have nine going to Nationals, which were two big goals for us,” Santoro concluded. “Now we have to move on to the next goal, which is the national tournament.”
Lehigh’s nine NCAA qualifiers will now head to St. Louis for the NCAA Championships, March 15-17 at Scottrade Center. At-large berths and brackets are expected to be announced on Wednesday.
125 – Frank Perrelli (Cornell) dec. Garrett Frey (Princeton) 7-4
133 – Bryan Ortenzio (Penn) dec. Aaron Kalil (Navy) 2-1
141 – Matt Mariacher (American) dec. Mike Nevinger (Cornell) 6-4
149 – Shane Welsh (LEHIGH) dec. Kevin Tao (American) 4-0
157 – Kyle Dake (Cornell) dec. Walter Peppelman (Harvard) 3-0
165 – Brandon Hatchett (LEHIGH) dec. Scott Winston (Rutgers) 4-2, s.v.
174 – Dave Foxen (Brown) dec. Oscar Huntley (Navy) 3-2
184 – Robert Hamlin (LEHIGH) dec. Steve Bosak (Cornell) 3-2
197 – Cam Simaz (Cornell) dec. Micah Burak (Penn) 9-4
285 – Ryan Flores (American) dec. Zach Rey (LEHIGH) 3-1, s.v.
Alex Abreu – 125 – 8th place
7th place match: L by major dec. Scott Filbert (Army) 10-0
Mason Beckman – 133 – 4th place
Consolation semifinal: dec. Kyle Gilchrist (Columbia) 4-2
3rd place match: L by dec. Steven Keith (Harvard) 4-2, s.v. 2
Steve Dutton – 141 – 3rd place
Consolation semifinal: dec, Richard Durso (F&M) 14-7
3rd place match: dec. Billy Ashnault (Rutgers) 7-3
Brian Tanen – 157 – 6th place
Consolation semifinal: L by Fall Ganbayar Sanjaa (American) 3:32
5th place match: L by dec. Jake O’Hara (Columbia) 6-5
Nate Brown – 174 – 4th place
Consolation semifinal: W by DQ Billy George (Cornell) Flagrant Misconduct
3rd place match – Medical forfeit to Greg Zannetti (Rutgers)
Joe Kennedy – 197 – 3rd place
Consolation semifinal: dec. Daniel Mitchell (American) 2-0
3rd place match: dec. Dan Rinaldi (Rutgers) 9-3
Final Team Standings
1. Cornell, 151.5
2. LEHIGH, 149
3. American, 103
4. Penn, 94.5
5. Navy, 85
6. Columbia, 78.5
7. Rutgers, 74.5
8. Harvard, 59
9. Army, 57.5
10. Brown, 48
11. Princeton, 44
12. F&M, 29
13. Bucknell, 28.5
14. Sacred Heart, 6