Northwestern and the Season Finale
The Northwestern Wildcats had senior day on Friday night. Northwestern is ranked in the top 25 despite having just one conference win coming into the dual although they only lost by two points to Minnesota and three points to Rutgers. Maryland's closest Big Ten dual was a 24-11 loss to Rutgers. Still, with six points all but guaranteed and seeing some talented but underachieving Wildcats in the lower weight classes, the Terrapins had to believe they had a chance to register their first conference dual meet win especially if they got off to a good start. Neither came to pass as Maryland dropped the meet 26-18.
In the first bout of the evening, Josh Polacek took on Northwestern's Garrison White. White got a takedown late in the first period and Polacek was unable to get away and it was a 2-0 advantage for White going into the second period. White was on bottom to start the second and reversed Polacek at the end of the second period to increase his lead to four. Polacek got on the board with an escape and reversal with just about 10 seconds remaining in the third period. He fought desperately to get White onto his back but ran out of time and couldn't dig himself out of the 4-0 hole he was in and lost a 4-3 decision. Northwestern led 3-0 going into 133.
Maryland's Geoffrey Alexander still clung to the 20th spot in the rankings and he had already majored Northwestern's Dom Malone earlier in the season at the Midlands so this figured to be a match that would get his confidence back up for the Big Ten tournament. Alexander had won by forfeit the week before but hadn't won a match at 133 since January 11th and his last Big Ten dual win was against Nebraska on November 16th.
Alexander came out in the first period and wrestled Malone the way he was supposed to. He had an early takedown and led 3-1 in the second period but got taken down and the match was tied 3-3 going into the third and final period. The match between Alexander and Malone was definitely closer than the last one these two had wrestled where it was a completely one-sided affair. Malone started the third period on bottom and reversed Alexander with 30 seconds left in the match to go up 5-3 and he held on for the upset win. This was a huge loss and a serious gut check for Alexander, who will now drop from the top 20 rankings going into the Big Ten tournament.
Northwestern led 6-0 in team points going into 141. Jameson Oster came out for the Wildcats and Shyheim Brown came out for Maryland. Brown has been wrestling very well as of late even though the results haven't seemed to show it. He wrestled Dziewa of Iowa tough and Brown has simply been improving slowly but surely as the season has gone along.
After a scoreless first period, Oster took bottom to start the second period. He escaped quickly to take a 1-0 lead. It was a 1-0 lead for Oster going to the third period. Brown is very good from the bottom position and he has escaped from some great wrestlers but Oster managed to ride Brown and turn him for a two point near-fall to take a 3-0 lead about midway through the third period. Oster rode Brown out for the rest of the period and added the ride time point to get the 4-0 decision win.
Jason Tsirtsis won a Big Ten title and a national championship at 149 last year as a freshman. He stayed at 149 and is ranked third in the country with a record of 27-1. Ben Dorsay came close to getting a win against Minnesota but fell short in that match. This match wasn't like that one at all.
Tsirtsis looked like a defending national champion and racked up 10 points in the first period alone. He led Dorsay 10-1 at the end of the first period. Tsirtsis put on a show in front of the Welsh-Ryan Arena crowd and he was looking for bonus points all the way. Tsirtsis escaped quickly from the bottom position to start the second period and his lead was now in the double digits. Another takedown gave Tsirtsis a 13-1 lead going into the third period and he had accumulated over two and half minutes of riding time. Tsirtsis picked up another five points in the final period to get the 18-1 technical fall. The Wildcats led 14-0 going into match number five of the dual.
Lou Mascola was in the familiar position of trying to get Maryland on the scoreboard just as he had in duals against Rutgers, Ohio State and Iowa. Mascola is probably wrestling the best of any Maryland wrestler on the team at the moment. He took on Northwestern's Ben Sullivan in an attempt to stop the bleeding. And just like he did at the Midlands, Mascola collected a quick first period pin to get Maryland a much needed six points. Mascola almost single-handedly cut the Wildcats' lead in half going into intermission. Northwestern was up 14-0 and now they led 14-6.
Pierce Harger was one of the seniors being honored for Northwestern's senior day. He also happens to be a returning All-American, ranked seventh in the country and he was going after his 100th career win in this match. Tyler Manion is done for the year. T.J. Guidice replaced him against Minnesota and he took the mat tonight as well.
Harger was all business from the start, taking Guidice down almost immediately. After picking up well over a minute of ride time, Harger cut Guidice who earned a point for the escape but Harger picked up another quick takedown and added a three point near-fall to lead 7-1 going into the second period. Harger dominated Guidice in the first period, riding him for 2:44 out of a possible three minutes.
Harger's dominance continued into the second period where he wiped out the points that Mascola had just given Maryland by reversing and then pinning Guidice. Harger picked up his 100th career win (the 11th Northwestern wrestler ever to do so) in front of his home fans in his last career home match. It was a great feeling for the Northwestern faithful in attendance.
Northwestern had forfeited the 174 pound weight class throughout the season and they did not make an exception tonight. Josh Snook went out and took the forfeit and took a seat on the bench for the easiest six points he'll ever earn in a Maryland singlet. Northwestern still led 20-12 with three matches left.
Mitch Sliga had a 9-15 record coming into the match for Northwestern at 184 and Anthony Gardner countered with a worse record at 1-13.
Sliga took Gardner down and rode him for over two minutes before Gardner finally got away. Gardner got turned for two in the third period and Sliga's lead increased, going up 5-1. Sliga had an incredible ride time advantage and even though Gardner escaped towards the end, he couldn't close the gap and Sliga won 6-2. That win all but sealed the dual win for Northwestern because Maryland would need a pin and a technical fall against two ranked wrestlers just to tie up the match.
Rob Fitzgerald took down his second ranked opponent of the season, pinning top-20 ranked senior Alex Polizzi, a two time NCAA-qualifier, to bring Maryland within five points. Northwestern led 23-18 going into the final and deciding match of the dual.
Top-five ranked Mike McMullan is another of the four Northwestern seniors that was honored. McMullan is a three time All-American and made the finals two years ago. He has taken third, second and third. Only two other wrestlers in Northwestern wrestling history have become four time All-Americans so McMullan has the chance to become a historic wrestler for Northwestern this season.
Maryland's Spencer Myers just beat a top-15 ranked heavyweight (Kroells of Minnesota) in sudden victory overtime last week and now had to wrestle yet another ranked heavyweight opponent this week. Myers was fresh off a win against a ranked opponent and McMullan had beaten his last three ranked opponents in a row.
Myers needed a technical fall to get the tie and decide the match by criteria and a pin to win the dual outright. Anything less against the three time All-American would mean a dual loss for the Terps.
After a scoreless first period, McMullan escaped and then took Myers down with a single leg to take a 3-0 lead. Myers escaped to cut into the lead but McMullan still had a 3-1 going into the third and final period. Myers took bottom to start the third. Myers had the chance to get an escape but chose to shoot back in before securing the escape point. This allowed McMullan to keep building his riding time while Myers fought to get points.
Myers eventually went for the one point escape but it was too late and McMullan fought him off to get the 4-2 decision courtesy of the riding time point. McMullan's win gave Northwestern the 26-18 dual win in his last home match as a Wildcat. Myers usually doesn't lose matches with the team's dual fate hanging in the balance but McMullan was a little too much for him tonight from the top position. Myers didn't bring the aggressive style that he had used against Kroells and Telford in his last two matches and that really hurt him in this match. If he doesn't shoot and attack from the opening whistle, he will not advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland could have won this match, plain and simple. Polacek was down 4-0 and lost 4-3. That's a close one and it stings. Geoffrey Alexander dropped a match that he was winning to a kid that he had majored about a month and a half ago. Shyheim Brown lost to a kid who lost close matches to most of the best guys in the conference but also has the chops to beat the tenth ranked kid in the country in overtime. Oster is very good but you might not know it because 141 is full of ranked Big Ten kids that don't include Oster or Brown.
Tsirtsis was going to win at 149 because he is an absolute machine but a tech-fall really hurt Maryland there and gave Northwestern a big 14-0 lead. Lou Mascola stepped up yet again and I think he is Maryland's biggest threat going into the Big Ten Tournament. His pin cut the lead to eight points and was instrumental in keeping Maryland in the match.
Harger got those points back for Northwestern by pinning Guidice. This hurt Maryland again because it stunted their momentum coming out of the break and it mitigated the six points that Josh Snook earned with the forfeit. The match at 184 was important for Maryland because a decision win would have brought them within five points and Fitzgerald's pin would have given Maryland the lead (even though McMullan's win would still have won the dual for Northwestern anyway). Sliga delivered another decision win for Northwestern and made the lead almost insurmountable.
Fitzgerald pinned Polizzi very quickly, almost as quickly as it took me to write out the introduction to the match at 197. It was just great counter wrestling by Fitzgerald and he knocked off his second ranked opponent of the season. It could have been three had he been able to stick Kyle Snyder but he is one to watch at the Big Ten tournament. While Fitzgerald at least gave Maryland a chance, Myer's lack of aggressive wrestling all but ensured that he would not get the six points needed to win the dual outright. Myers was focused on trying to win his individual match. There is nothing wrong with that at all except that Myers won't beat All-Americans by wrestling passively.
Maryland had 18 points in this dual, by far their highest scoring output in a conference dual this season. The Terps got pins from Mascola and Fitzgerald and a forfeit win from Snook. That's it. Maryland won two matches by fall and a third match was given to them. This was a team that the Terps were supposed to be able to come in and compete with. They ended up losing seven of the nine matches. The forfeit made the score look close but Northwestern dominated this dual. They dominated on top, they were the far better team from neutral and heck, they were even the better team for most of the night on bottom too.
Northwestern won all five of the close matches. Tonight that made all the difference. They won the first three to start off the dual including an upset win at 133 and they won an important match at 184 and the dual-clinching match at heavyweight. Maryland will have to win those matches if they want to win their first Big Ten dual. After tonight they will be forced to wonder if they could have knocked off a top-25 team if they just had one more chance.