ST. LOUIS – Seniors Brandon Hatchett and Zach Rey will wrestle for national championships Saturday evening as both Mountain Hawks posted wins in the semifinal round of the NCAA Championships Friday night at Scottrade Center. Hatchett won a 5-4 decision over Josh Asper of Maryland at 165, while Rey defeated rival Ryan Flores of American 6-2 and will defend his heavyweight title.
Junior Robert Hamlin came up short in his semifinals match against Quentin Wright of Penn State and will wrestle in Saturday morning’s consolation round, as will senior Joe Kennedy who earned the first All-American medal of his career and will wrestle for seventh place on Saturday.
With two finalists and four All-Americans, Lehigh moved into a tie with Illinois for sixth place in the team standings with 57.5 points.
“It was an emotional night for sure,” said Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro. “One up, one down. We’ve wrestled hard all weekend but there’s still a lot of wrestling left tomorrow. We need to come back with some ‘W’s’ tomorrow.
Hatchett continued his magical run to the finals from the No. 11 seed by avenging a loss to Asper in last year’s tournament. The two-time All-American scored the first takedown against Asper in the first period, but after a pair of escapes, Asper scored a takedown in the second to go up 4-2. Hatchett escaped to pull within a point after two periods and after choosing neutral in the third, converted a low single leg shot for the go-ahead score and proceeded to ride out Asper for the remainder of the bout.
“I’ve wrestled him (Asper) three times now,” Hatchett said. “I think all the guys in the semifinals have wrestled a guy they wrestled previously. I wanted to make sure I was in and up, I didn't want to get stuck underneath him because I know he's big and strong.”
Santoro added, “Brandon has been doing all the right things. He did a great job getting the takedown and rode him hard. Asper is a big, strong kid, but Brandon wrestled a great match.
Hatchett improves to 22-3 on the season and will now face No. 1 seed David Taylor of Penn State in the finals Saturday night. Taylor enters the finals with four straight falls. He defeated Hatchett 8-5 back on December 9 at Stabler Arena.
In a rematch of last year’s final at 184, Hamlin dropped a 3-2 decision to Wright and was denied a repeat appearance in the finals. Wright scored the only takedown in the match with a body lock in the first period. Hamlin and Wright traded escapes but Hamlin was unable to get to Wright’s legs with his shots. Hamlin will now face Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota in the consolation semifinals on Saturday and can finish anywhere from third to sixth.
In another rematch from last year’s finals, Rey won his rubber match with Flores to earn a shot at his second straight national title. Rey opened the scoring by countering a Flores shot for a takedown in the final six seconds of period one. Flores sustained an injury and used all of his allotted injury time but decided to continue in the match. He managed to ride Rey effectively in the second period building up over a minute of riding time before Rey escaped.
“He took a shot, and I blocked down and swung behind,” Rey said of the sequence where Flores appeared to suffer his injury. “When the period was over he took injury time. We hit heads pretty good.”
Because of the injury timeout, Rey chose down again in the third and added another escape plus a second counter takedown to seal the victory. He has now won four of seven career meetings against Flores, with all three of Flores’ wins coming in the EIWA finals.
“Zach did a nice job keeping his composure and wrestling in good positions,” Santoro said. “He relaxed on bottom and got ridden for a bit but eventually figured things out. He wrestled a good tactical match.”
The win was No. 114 of Rey’s career, moving him into sole possession of third place on Lehigh’s career wins list. He will face No. 2 seed Tony Nelson of Minnesota as he bids to become Lehigh’s first two-time national champion since Darryl Burley won his second title in 1983.
“The goal of wrestling is to get to the platform and win a national championship,” Rey said. “I’m happy to be back in this position.”
Kennedy became Lehigh’s fourth All-American with a 10-3 decision over Brent Haynes of Missouri in the All-America round of 12. Haynes scored the opening takedown but Kennedy took over from that point, scoring two takedowns in the first period and reversing Haynes in both the second and third periods.
Following his win over Haynes, Kennedy moved into the consolation quarterfinals where he fell 2-0 to Sonny Yohn of Minnesota. Yohn rode Kennedy out in the second period and escaped in the third, but Kennedy battled back, narrowly missing a tying takedown off an inside trip in the final seconds of regulation. Kennedy will wrestle Micah Burak of Penn for seventh place on Saturday morning.
With four All-Americans, Lehigh now has 135 in its history, tying Michigan State for eighth place on the all-time list.
Penn State placed five wrestlers in the finals and continues to lead the team race with 124 points. Minnesota is second with 101.5 points and two finalists, while Iowa sits in third place with 93 points. Lehigh and Illinois are 2.5 points behind Ohio State for fifth place.
The NCAA Championships conclude Saturday, beginning with the medal round at 10 a.m. CT, which will be televised on ESPNU and ESPN3. The NCAA Finals will begin at 6:30 p.m. CT with television coverage on ESPN and ESPN3 and free audio coverage at Lehighsports.com.
165 – Brandon Hatchett (Lehigh) dec. Josh Asper (Maryland) 5-4
184 – Quentin Wright (Penn State) dec. Robert Hamlin (Lehigh) 3-2
285 – Zach Rey (Lehigh) dec. Ryan Flores (American) 6-2
Fourth Round Consolations
197 – Joe Kennedy (Lehigh) dec. Brent Haynes (Missouri) 10-3
197 – Sonny Yohn (Minnesota) dec. Joe Kennedy (Lehigh) 2-0