After two straight losses at the hands of No. 3 N.C. State and No. 8 Virginia Tech, the No. 14 North Carolina wrestling team (4-2, 2-2 ACC) traveled to No. 15 Pittsburgh (3-3, 1-3 ACC) on Friday and came out as victors, 23-12.
Pitt took the first two matches at 125 and 133 pounds to make it 6-0. But after No. 11 redshirt junior Zach Sherman came up with a final-period takedown to seal a 4-1 win over No. 17 Cole Matthews, the Tar Heels never trailed in the dual again.
Dominant performances at 149 and 157 pounds for No. 1 redshirt junior Austin O’Connor and senior Josh McClure resulted in wins by pin and technical fall, respectively. In three matches, the dual went from a 6-0 Pitt lead to a 14-6 UNC lead.
The Tar Heels’ lead looked under threat, however, as a tightly contested match at 165 pounds saw Pitt’s No. 11 Jake Wentzel triumph over No. 9 redshirt senior Kennedy Monday, possibly swing momentum back in the Panthers’ favor. But UNC would secure victory after three decision wins from redshirt junior Clay Lautt, redshirt senior Devin Kane, and junior Brandon Whitman.
Who stood out?
Big wins by O’Connor and McClure notched UNC 11 points to go up 14-6, a lead they would never let go of. But it was the redshirt junior Sherman who got UNC on the board first with a clutch decision win over a ranked opponent. Meanwhile, Kane will be encouraged by a win in his first match at 184 pounds.
When was it decided?
After Lautt’s stellar final period put UNC up 17-9, Kane, who was wrestling his first match at 184 pounds, stepped up to the challenge and all but ended Pitt’s hopes of a comeback. Though redshirt first-year Max Shaw would fall to No. 7 Nino Bonaccorsi at 197 pounds, that would only put the score at 20-12 with one match to go, guaranteeing a Tar Heel victory.
Why does it matter?
In the Tar Heels’ quest to establish themselves as a first-in-line contender for a national championship, a win against a ranked side will be viewed favorably, especially after two losses in two days to top-ten sides. As star O’Connor explained last week, though, the team isn’t too concerned about results early in the season, knowing that, win or loss, they can improve and get ready for higher-stakes tournament duals.
Emblematic of this is Monday. From a results-based perspective, the redshirt senior would be disappointed after a second straight loss to a ranked opponent. But both matches were tightly contested, and as O’Connor said last week, it’s important that the team is staying competitive in tough matches like these, for they have the chance to flip those into wins come tournament time.
When do they play next?
After its 26-6 win over Lehigh on Saturday, UNC will host the Virginia Cavaliers at Carmichael next Saturday, on February 13 at 6 p.m.
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