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Wrestling drops ACC opener to No. 18 Pittsburgh 25-10

Virginia kept the match close, keeping the score tied after six matches, before the Panthers pulled away

<p>Despite winning the opening dual and a strong start, Virginia was unable to keep pace with Pittsburgh.</p>

Despite winning the opening dual and a strong start, Virginia was unable to keep pace with Pittsburgh.

Virginia wrestling kicked off ACC play against No. 18 Pittsburgh Friday. The Panthers (6-3, 1-0 ACC) defeated the Cavaliers (3-3, 0-1 ACC) by a score of 25-10. After the first six matches. The score was tied at 10, before Pittsburgh pulled away and won the final four weight classes. 

The dual opened up at 149 pounds, beginning with Virginia’s No. 28 graduate student Jarod Verkleeren against Pittsburgh junior Luke Kemerer. Verkleeren, who went undefeated at the Virginia Duals, gave the Cavaliers a strong start, winning 7-2 for Virginia to take a 3-0 lead. 

Next, at 157 pounds, it was graduate student Jon Errico for the Cavaliers facing off against No. 21 Pittsburgh senior Elijah Cleary. Cleary defeated Errico in a low-scoring 4-2 decision victory. The win tied the score 3-3 in the dual. 

No. 13 Pittsburgh senior Jake Wentzel then gave the Panthers their first lead of the day. Wentzel, a returning NCAA finalist, faced off against fifth-year Jake Keating, who wrestled up a weight class. Keating is ranked No. 28 at 157 pounds, but helped the team by wrestling in a higher weight class. Wentzel defeated Keating 10-0 for a major decision victory awarding the Panthers one bonus point, making the score 7-3.  

“He lost, yes, but he competed in such a way,” Coach Steve Garland said. “He competed the way we want our guys to compete.”

Junior Justin Phillips then brought the Cavaliers back even at 174 pounds. Phillips defeated redshirt freshman James Lledo 13-5, earning him a major decision victory to tie the score 7-7. 

No. 23 graduate student Michael Battista would then take back the lead for Virginia,  defeating No. 31 senior Gregg Harvey 9-5. Battista has been excellent as of late, winning 11 consecutive matches for a 12-1 record on the season. His decision victory gave the Cavaliers a key three points to give them a 10-7 lead. Additionally, Battista defeated Harvey last season 3-2 in Charlottesville.

“They were both attacking the entire match. That’s the way it has to look for everyone, though,” Garland said about the performances of Battista and Phillips. 

The Panthers would then win the next five matches, beginning at 197 pounds. No. 5 Pittsburgh senior Nino Bonaccorsi handed No. 11 graduate student Jay Aiello his first loss of the season to move to 8-1. Bonaccorsi won 9-4 for a decision victory to tie the score 10-10. 

Next at 285 pounds, junior Jake Slinger gave the lead back to Pittsburgh, defeating No. 26 graduate student Quinn Miller 4-1 for a decision victory. 

No. 21 Pittsburgh senior Gage Curry faced off against senior Patrick McCormick at 125 pounds. Curry edged McCormick in a tight 3-2 decision victory, bringing the Panthers’ lead to 16-10. 

At 133 pounds, junior Trey Lane lost 22-7 by way of technical fall to No. 7 senior Micky Phillippi giving the Panthers five points to make the score 21-10. The final match of the day was between sophomore Evan Buchanan and No. 20 junior Cole Matthews. In his first dual action of the season, Buchanan was defeated 10-1 to make the final score of the dual 25-10. 

“We had some good individual performances tonight, but we couldn’t put it all together as a team,” Garland said. “The way you compete matters, not just the end result. We talked about that as a team afterwards and I trust the message got across.”

The Cavaliers will look to bounce back as they continue ACC play against No. 22 North Carolina at Memorial Gymnasium in Charlottesville Friday.