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No. 24 UNC wrestling defeats No. 19 Pittsburgh, 19-12, in final home meet of season

Redshirt senior Zach Sherman tries to free himself from a hold during the Tar Heel's match against Pittsburgh on Feb. 4th, 2022 at Carmichael Arena. UNC won 19-12.

The No. 24 North Carolina wrestling team (8-5, 3-0 ACC) sent the seniors out in style with a 19-12 win over the No. 19 Pittsburgh Panthers (6-5, 1-2 ACC) on Friday night in Carmichael Arena. 

What happened?

On a night dedicated to the graduating senior class, UNC kicked off the match flexing their young guns.

First-year Spencer Moore scored the first points of the 125-pound match in the second period, but Pittsburgh’s Gage Curry earned the match’s final two points to give the Panthers the decision victory. 

The ensuing match featured the night's first ranked matchup when No. 23 Joe Heilmann of North Carolina battled No. 7 Micky Phillippi. Heilmann’s third period takedown earned the Tar Heels the upset victory at 133 pounds, and evened the team scoring at three. 

At 141 pounds, UNC graduate Kizhan Clarke entered the match ranked sixth in his weight class and undefeated on the season. Yet, Clarke’s perfect season came to an end when Cole Matthews squeaked out a 3-2 decision win, helping the Panthers regain the lead.

In the 149 and 157-pound matches, North Carolina was able to take its first lead of the night, 9-6. With the decision victories, redshirt seniors Zach Sherman and Austin O’Connor increased their career win totals to 72 and 102, respectively. 

The Panthers redeemed themselves in the 165-pound match. UNC’s redshirt junior Michael Goldfeder was unable to fend off the pesky attack of No. 14 Jake Wentzel in a 8-1 decision win for Pittsburgh. 

After trading off escape points in the second and third periods, UNC graduate Clay Lautt’s takedown of Pittsburgh first-year James Lledo in the final minute gave the Tar Heels the 4-2 decision win. Lautt lived up to his No. 13 ranking in the 174-pound class and helped the Tar Heels retake the lead.

Redshirt first-year Gavin Kane gave a glimpse of the future holds for North Carolina. Kane’s display of powerful takedowns helped the 184 pounder earn North Carolina their first, and only, major decision win of the day making the team score 16-9.

The teams split the final two matches of the night at 197 and 285 pounds. UNC heavyweight senior Brandon Whitman’s decision victory concluded the team scoring at 19-12 in favor of the Tar Heels.

Who stood out? 

Despite a Pittsburgh coaches challenge, Heilmann’s late takedown stood as called, helping him seal an impressive victory over seventh-ranked Phillippi. Heilmann’s last-second heroics brought the Carmichael crowd to its feet as the redshirt junior flexed his way off the mat. 

Sherman’s lively personality was on full display from the get-go, as he back-flipped at the conclusion of the pregame senior recognition. His personality translated to an aggressive play style on the mat, as Sherman’s first-period takedown set the standard in his 8-2 decision win. 

When was it decided?

Lautt’s late takedown helped secure him the individual win, and awarded the Tar Heels with the team advantage. From this point on, UNC never surrendered the team lead.

Kane’s high flying takedowns and grit helped him earn one final takedown with seconds remaining in the third period. The young star’s impressive showing extended UNC’s lead to seven points, a margin the Panthers were unable to overcome. 

Why does it matter?

With the win, North Carolina earns its first ranked win of the season and remains atop the ACC standings with a perfect conference record. The win should give the Tar Heels much needed confidence heading into their final matches against the two top teams in the ACC, No. 7 Virginia Tech and No. 4 N.C. State

When do they play next?

North Carolina will hit the road and face Virginia Tech next Friday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m.  

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