DES MOINES, Iowa – For the second time in three years, Lehigh’s Robert Hamlin is headed to the NCAA finals as the Mountain Hawks’ three-time All-American defeated Ben Bennett of Central Michigan 3-2 in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships Friday night at Wells Fargo Arena. A first period takedown was the difference for Hamlin, who will face No. 1 seed Ed Ruth of Penn State in Saturday’s finals.
Hamlin improves to 26-3 on the season and avenges a 2-1 loss to Bennett in the Midlands finals. The victory also gives Hamlin a 3-2 edge in the all-time series against Bennett.
After not being able to score a takedown in their previous meeting this season, Hamlin converted his second strong low single leg shot in the first period and led 2-1 after one. In the second period, Bennett chose down and escaped to tie the match at two. Hamlin entered the final period with 25 seconds of riding time in his favor. He chose down, and was able to kick free for an escape early in the third period for the decisive point. Hamlin continued to move forward and maintained solid defensive positioning as Bennett could not muster any quality scoring opportunities in the final period.
“I’ve wrestled Bennett a few times before,” Hamlin said. “Going into the match I knew I was going to have to get a takedown early. I did my best to get my offense going. I went over different positions with my coaches which helped me get ready for the match.
“The second hurdle was to get off the bottom,” Hamlin continued. “He’s a beast on top. I was trying to catch the leg and throw it in and step behind. I was able to get into a scramble and escape and that was pretty much the match.”
Hamlin’s finals opponent, Ed Ruth, the defending champion at 174, comes in at 32-0 on the season. Ruth won an 11-9 decision in the only previous meeting between the two back on November 16 at Penn State’s Rec Hall.
“He’s a great wrestler,” Hamlin said of Ruth. “He’s extremely strong and fast. It was good to get a feel to wrestle him before so I’m not going into this match not knowing what to expect. Every match is different. I’m sure he’s made adjustments. I know I’ve made adjustments. I’m just excited.”
As a team, Lehigh finishes the second day of competition with 18.5 points, to tie for 24th place. The Mountain Hawks have at least one finalist for the third straight year, the first time Lehigh has accomplished that since the Mountain Hawks had a finalist in four straight tournaments from 2001-2004.
All five of Penn State’s All-Americans will wrestle in the national finals, as the Nittany Lions have opened up a 114.5-94 lead on second place Oklahoma State. Minnesota, Iowa and Cornell round out the top five teams.
Hamlin and Ruth will wrestle in the second bout of the finals, which begin at 7 p.m. (CT) Saturday from Wells Fargo Arena. The finals will be televised on ESPNU with audio coverage of the 184 point final and select finals matches available for free at Lehighsports.com
184 – No. 3 Robert Hamlin
Semifinals: dec. No. 2 Ben Bennett (Central Mich.) 3-2
Finals: vs. No. 1 Ed Ruth (Penn State)