Upstart Buckeyes peaking at right time

Updated: March 20, 2009, 11:03 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Ohio State won three of four semifinal matches in the NCAA wrestling tournament Friday night, taking a big step toward its first title.

Defending champions Mike Pucillo (184 pounds) and J Jaggers (141) advanced along with Reece Humphrey (133) for the Buckeyes, peaking at the right time after finishing sixth in the Big Ten meet. Ohio State has 84.5 points and a 3.5-point lead over Iowa, which has only top seeded 149-pound Brent Metcalf in the finals.

"If we can pull this thing off, it's going to be amazing," Pucillo said. "It's always good when there's someone out there that can't be beat, and you pull it off."

Iowa State was third with 71.5 points, followed by Nebraska (69) and Edinboro (63.5). Rounding out the top 10 were Cornell (63), Missouri (57.5), Illinois (49.5), Wisconsin (45) and Boise State (43).

Sixteen schools will be represented in the finals, with Edinboro and Nebraska each sending two.

Entering the meet, unbeaten Iowa was considered a heavy favorite to repeat. The Hawkeyes fielded several questions at a news conference about what it would take not to win.

"This weekend, this group that we have, it's time to sieze the moment," Iowa coach Tom Brands said.

Ohio State finished a distant second behind Iowa last year, but wasn't considered a factor given its recent track record. Jaggers (27-7) typifies Ohio State's sudden rise to prominence, rolling into the final after a 7-5 start heading into the finals against eighth seed Ryan Williams (39-3) of Edinboro.

"I lost about four matches in a row back in November, and at Christmas break people would come up to me and say 'How are you doing, champ?'" Jaggers said. "To be honest, I was embarrassed. Now, I'm just wrestling the way I want to."

Seven wrestlers are unbeaten headed into the final, four of them in two weight classes. Jordan Burroughs (34-0) of Nebraska and Michael Poeta (17-0) of Illinois will square off at 157 pounds and Paul Donohoe (35-0) of Edinboro will oppose Troy Nickerson (24-0) of Cornell at 125 pounds.

Metcalf (37-0), the meet's outstanding wrestler last year, won his 69th consecutive match at 149 pounds with a 6-2 decision over fourth seed Lance Palmer of Ohio State. It was the closest call by far for Metcalf, who opened with two pins and a 14-6 decision. Metcalf heads into the final against Darion Caldwell (37-1) of North Carolina State.

Jake Herbert of Northwestern (33-0) beat Vince Jones of Nebraska 11-1 to reach the 184 final against Pucillo. Herbert, the champion at 174 in 2007, has won 64 straight matches and is trying to become that school's first two-time champion since 1931-32.

Poeta, the second seed at 157, won a rematch of last year's final with a 6-4 victory over top seed and previously unbeaten Jordan Leen of Cornell. The top-seeded Burroughs dominated for the fourth straight match with a 12-4 major decision over Gregor Gillespie of Edinboro, an NCAA champion three years ago.

"I like to dominate," said Burroughs, who opened with a technical fall, a pin and a major decision. "I don't like anyone to come close to me."

Nebraska's other finalist is 197-pound top seed Craig Brester (32-3), who beat fourth seed Tyrel Todd of Michigan 7-2. Second seed Jake Varner of Iowa State beat Missouri's Max Askren 8-3.

Another unbeaten, 174-pound top seed Steve Luke (31-0) of Michigan, beat Missouri fifth seed Raymond Jordan 4-2 in overtime. Donahoe had a 5-2 decision over Arizona State's Anthony Robles, born without a right leg, while Nickerson used riding time to beat third seed and defending champion Angel Escobedo of Indiana 2-1.

The top two seeds advanced at 133, Franklin Gomez of Michigan State (26-2) and Reece Humphrey of Ohio State (30-3), setting up a rematch from the Big Ten final when Gomez won in overtime. Humphrey beat Jayson Ness of Minnesota 1-0 on more than two minutes of riding time.

Jarrod King of Edinboro (31-5), a 12th seed at 165, was the lowest seed to make it to the finals after edging eighth seed Jonathan Reader of Iowa State 7-6 in the second tiebreaker on riding time. He'll face second seed Andrew Howe (30-4) of Wisconsin in the final.

Duke heavyweight Konrad Dutziak put an end to a string of tight victories by top seed David Zabriskie of Iowa State, winning 3-2. Dutziak is the first Duke wrestler to advance as far as the semifinals.

"I still get asked, 'Do you have a wrestling program?'" Dutziak said. "And that's by the Duke students."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE